IHS CEO Jerre Stead: The Reluctant CEO

When Jerre Stead agreed to step in and aid an ailing IHS back in 2000, it was on one condition: [...]

April 14 2009 by Jennifer Pellet


When Jerre Stead agreed to step in and aid an ailing IHS back in 2000, it was on one condition: “I said, I’ll be happy to be chairman, but I’m not going to do CEO again,” recounts the 65-year-old, who had left the chairman and CEO role at Ingram Micro. a scant six months earlier.

For a while he kept his vow, doing all the heavy lifting to fix a host of internal issues plaguing the then-$300 million business information supply firm as chairman rather than CEO. Stead jettisoned 26 out of 28 top execs, assembled a new management team, replaced the accounting firm and began addressing the debt load and compliance challenges afflicting HIS at the time.

In fact, it took six years and an IPO – IHS went public in November 2005, selling $232 million worth of shares at $16 – before he eventually succumbed and took the CEO seat. “By then I’d hired an incredibly competent group of young executives,” Stead explains. “If I’d brought someone in from the outside, I think we’d have lost half of them.”

Instead he took the helm and continued steering an aggressive growth strategy for IHS, which provides data and expertise in four areas – energy, product lifecycle, security and environment – for customers ranging from governments and global companies to smaller companies and technical professionals in more than 180 countries. Judging by the last few years, that strategy centers around augmenting the company’s already considerable information databases by buying smaller, more focused research – and information – oriented companies. Since 2007, Stead has acquired well over a dozen companies, including several specialized research- and data-centric firms.

IHS’s Specialty Acquisitions

Company

Specialty

Date

 Cost

John S. Herold

Independent research firm holding key financial and operational data on more than 400 global oil and gas companies

August 2007

Approx. $48 million

Jane’s Information Group

Research company best known for its flagship Jane’s Defense Weekly

June 2007

Approx. $183.5 million

Prime Publications

Holds a 50 percent stake in Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay, a leader in global maritime information

March 2008

Approx. $75.5 million

Global Insights

Specialist in macroeconomic forecasting

September 2008

$200 million

Today, IHS has a wealth of proprietary critical information and insight in each of the four industries it tracks. Its corporate clients rely on that data to make decisions, validate their own findings and identify opportunities, explains Stead. “For example, we have data on 25 million oil wells around the world and the most complete database of oil field information, production, downstream data,” he says. “And we constantly update it. We have our own geologists gathering and updating data everyday and we also receive, from governments required to report publicly, data on an hourly basis. Why does a BP need us? Because we own everything – not just information on them but everything around them.”

In the product lifecycle arena, IHS can provide global companies with parts, standards and regulatory requirements on any product anywhere in the world, adds Stead. “A company like Boeing uses a million outside standards a day and has, internally, seven million of their own,” he says. “We integrate all those, keep them current and interface with [Boeing] on them.”

Mining this databank, Stead sees no reason IHS can’t deliver growth despite the economic downturn currently dragging on Corporate America. “We’re actually anti-cyclical,” he says. “Businesses need information in good times, but they need even more help making critical decisions in a downturn.”

Something of a turnaround veteran, Stead’s CV includes revitalizing the computer company NCR and growing the supply chain services company Ingram Micro from an $8 billion to a $32 billion company. At IHS, he’s now targeting $1 billion in revenues for 2009, working up from 2008’s $844 million. But the prospect of building IHS apparently hasn’t warmed the 65-year-old to the concept of staying the course as CEO.

“My deal with the board is that I’ll stay until I’m 100 percent sure of two things,” he says. “One, that we’ve got everything on track. And, two, that we select one of the internal candidates to become the next CEO. After that I’ll stay on as non-executive chairman until the transition is complete.”