Epicor CEO on ERP, enterprise software, and hiring 'wounded warriors'

We invited industry veteran Joe Cowan to talk live about Epicor, what's happening in the industry, customer expectations, and how to run a successful ERP implementation.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Epicor software is an important player in the ERP world. To learn more about the company, we invited their CEO, Joe Cowan, to appear live on the cxotalk.com video show.

These conversations are important because they bring company leaders together for an open, unfiltered discussion.

Because the discussion is live and unscripted, we take questions from Twitter and offer viewers direct access to the guest. These shows bring together leaders who are shaping our world.

As Joe Cowan explains, Epicor's focus is on mid-market manufacturing companies. Epicor offers its products in both cloud and on-premises versions.

You can watch the conversation below and see more information and detail over at the episode page on cxotalk.com.

Here is a transcript of the conversation with Epicor CEO Joe Cowan, edited for length and clarity:

Tell us about Epicor

Epicor is roughly a billion-dollar company that sells into the manufacturing marketplace. We sell into distribution, and we also have retail solutions. But what we're what you call a total solution provider. At Epicor, everything we do is software, but then we provide the basic services to help our customers really utilize the software.

The real key to Epicor is the fact that we are vertically focused and we tend to be mid-market companies that can go anywhere from 50 million to 500 million in size. It's important to really understand who your customers are, their problems, their challenges. We pride ourselves on that deep domain-rich knowledge that allows us to really understand and help our customers be successful.

The target markets are manufacturing. Things like plastic, machinery manufacturing, the automotive part manufacturing space. We sell into some chemical but tend to focus more heavily on discreet parts.

We also sell to distribution companies. Let's say you want to put in a new bathroom in your home and you look at bathroom counter sinks, faucets - you go to wholesale distributors. We provide a total solution to those types of companies. There is also what we call 'hard goods' retail and distribution. You go into an Ace Hardware; the majority of Ace stores use the total Epicor solution to run their business.

We're very focused. The key to our success is knowledge and focus on the selected industries that we serve.

Tell us about the role of CEO

I was brought in to really understand the company, understand our strengths and weaknesses. Understand the marketplace and the competition and put together the right strategy and plan to take this company to the next level, from being a good company to being a great company.

So, my role as a CEO is to understand that strategy, put an operational plan together, and then execute that plan to accomplish those objectives.

How do you go from being a good company to a great company?

I've gone into the company and said, "Let's look at who we really are. Let's look at what our real strengths are," because you want to match your strengths up to the marketplace.

We're very good in certain verticals. Let's focus into those industries, make sure that's where our sales team is really selling.

It's that deep vertical focus so we can truly be the best of breed supplier into those companies. And we can be the best partner and our goal is to help them succeed.

The next thing is to look at technology. The company has spent quite a bit of money developing the next generation ERP system, which we call E9010; the goal there is to take that technology and make sure that its totally complete to solve those problems.

But we're not a technology company, per se, we're a software company that leverages technology and solves problems. So the real thing is to leverage the technology, make sure we understand where the technology is going, and then build rich vertical applications in the markets that we're serving.

Then make sure that everything we do has a foundation of quality. You know, I learned a long time ago that for a software company to be successful there better be quality in your products, quality in your services when customers call. That's an area we've been focusing on to make sure there is a solid foundation.

Tell us about your initiative to hire military veterans

Fifteen months ago at our customer event, we announced support for wounded warriors. I felt very strongly that these people had dedicated their lives, and in some cases had given their lives. These people were willing to go out and risk that all for this nation. As CEO of a company, I felt the least we could do is offer opportunities for those people.

We try get very experienced people with unique knowledge, that we can bring in and really plug into the organization. We'll bring them into sales roles, but especially in professional services. These people are very good for what I call a program, or project management, capability because the federal government is very organized.

We put them into those roles where we can take full advantage of their capabilities and start delivering real value to us. We've hired dozens of veterans that way, probably somewhere between 50 and 100. We continue to hire and I'm continuing to push this because I really believe in it.

What do customers want from ERP and how can they be successful?

We have got to have systems that are more configurable, more adaptable, that we can implement much faster, much quicker.

[When doing a customer implementation] we want to understand exactly how the customer runs their business and help them as a joint team. They've got to be committed to it and we've got to be committed to it.

Also try not to do everything at one time. Stage one thing at a time. Get the financials working, get the planning system working. Let's go a step at a time and not try to bite off too much and stay very focused.

You can buy generic systems that will solve, maybe one component like financials, but they are not very good when it comes to the manufacturing components or distribution components. So, identify the software or solution providers that really have a solution that matches up of what [you are] trying to achieve.

You've got to have a team, you've got to be committed, and you know you've got to be willing to make some changes and to drive your business. It takes a strong team effort, a strong partnership, between the supplier and the manufacturer and the distribution company. Our goal is to try and make it move as smooth as possible and build a system that is easy to use.

And don't bite off too much at one time. Stage a program. Figure out the biggest payback, the quickest way possible, and do that piece first. Then do the next piece, the next piece, and the next piece. Do it in stages. Focus on success, don't try to put in it all in at one time, and make sure you plan, plan, plan. That's my recommendation.

CXOTalk brings together the world's top executives, authors, and industry analysts to discuss leadership, technology, and innovation. Join me and Vala Afshar for new episodes of CXOTalk every week.

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