|By Todd Cohen
Growing up rural New Hampshire, Marc Chardon liked to tinker.
He built a go-cart with a “plank and a bunch of wheels,” he says, and assembled ham radios from Radio Shack kits.
And during a career of over 30 years that has included stints at an import-export firm and an unsuccessful solar venture, and high-level jobs at Digital Equipment Corp. and Microsoft, Chardon applied his engineering perspective to the practice of business.
Now, as the new CEO of Blackbaud, one of the biggest software firms serving nonprofits, Chardon aims to find ways to add value to the diverse charitable marketplace, and to help nonprofits use technology to make better sense of the knowledge and information they possess.
“There is no one market” in the nonprofit world, Chardon says.
Well-established software firms already supply many links, both specialized and not specialized, in the “value chains” through which nonprofits deliver services to clients in fields from education to human services, he says.
So the challenge for Blackbaud, he says, is “identifying areas where information technology isn’t yet adding the value to the nonprofit sector that it could add.”
Chardon always has straddled diverse cultures.
His father sold heavy equipment and recreational power products, while his mother was a ski instructor and state legislator.
Because his father was born in the U.S. to two French parents, Chardon inherited his father’s dual citizenship.
And in addition to loving science as a child, he embraced French language and culture when, at age five, he lived for several months with his French grandmother in Washington, D.C.
So after graduating in 1976 from Harvard with an undergraduate degree in economics, Chardon went to France with his grandmother.
He wound up staying nearly seven years.
In five years working for a family of import-export companies that shipped automotive spare parts to Africa and the Middle East, he says, he learned some valuable lessons about business from the owner.
“Hiring the right person counts, especially when they’re far away and you can’t watch them,” he says.
Job: President and CEO, Blackbaud, Charleston, S.C.
Born: 1955, Concord, N.H.
Family: Son, 18; daughter 15
Education: A.B., economics, Harvard, 1976
Career: Digital Equipment Corp, 1984-1998, including head of corporate strategy and general manager of Digital France; Microsoft, 1998-2005, including chief financial officer, Information Worker Business, and general manager, Microsoft France
Interests: Skiing, sailing, wine
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride: “I’ve seen it 320 times. I can still laugh about it with my kids.”
Just read: In the Wake of the Plague: the Black Death and the World It Made, by Norman F. Cantor
Little known fact: As a child, rode soapbox racer down state road in rural New Hampshire
|What’s more, he says, “you need sales and marketing people because you’re trying to get a real price for the value of the product.”
In the early 1980s, Chardon left the firm to backpack through Europe, although he continued to do some contract work for his old boss.
Then he joined his brother in a solar-engineering business that was “moderately unsuccessful,” he says.
“I learned that cash-flow is king,” he says. “If you don’t have the cash, you can’t keep going, so you have to pay attention every day of the week. That’s job one.”
In 1984, Chardon joined Digital Equipment Corp. in Maynard, Mass., initially handling international marketing of the company’s microprocessors.
He later oversaw corporate strategy, then served as vice president and general manager of Digital Equipment France.
“There was a huge passion for serving the customer,” he says, and that involved the full range of business functions, from manufacturing and service to marketing and sales.
He also learned “how the parts of the company have to work together to add up to more than just the sum of the parts,” he says. “If you don’t know how you’re getting synergy, the complexity will actually hurt you.”
When he took over DEC’s French operations, it was losing a lot of money, he says.
So he instituted a “change-management process that allowed people to contribute to the solution at all levels, and buy into the plan we put in place,” he says. “After this initial process of deciding what we all were going to do together, everyone knew what they had to do, and either bought in or chose to leave.”
In 1998, Microsoft hired Chardon to run its French operations, which at the time employed 600 people and was the software giant’s fifth-largest subsidiary.
After three years in that job, he moved to the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., first serving as general manager for business development, and later chief financial officer of the company’s $11 billion information worker business group that included the development, marketing and sales of Microsoft Office and other key products.
Joining the company when it was under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, Chardon says, he “learned how important public opinion is about a company.”
And working at a huge company like Microsoft, he says, he also learned a lot about packaging, pricing and “the creation of a coherent business portfolio.”
The nonprofit market
While he has spent his career in the business world, Chardon says, his interest in philanthropy is rooted in volunteer work he did starting in his teens with his grandmother in helping to preserve historic properties in New Bedford, Mass., and in his volunteer work as an adult helping prisoners work on life skills.
With 1,000 employees, Blackbaud offers a broad range of fundraising software and solutions designed to help nonprofits serve their constituents.
“We have great growth prospects with the current portfolio, but you always have to keep adding new things as a business,” Chardon says.
Because the company is growing and profitable, reporting net income of nearly $6.2 million for the fourth-quarter ended Dec. 31, Chardon says, he can take some time looking for strategic opportunities.
Those could include serving “much larger” clients, adding software for ticketing to its services, and “helping our customers do the analysis and thinking through how to get better advantage of the information they own and the donor bases they currently have,” he says.
“A software engineering principle is that the most expensive mistakes happen in the first five minutes,” he says. “I don’t want to decide too fast.”