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The Stuff of Dreams

The first thing Chris Kirk did after she left an 18-year tenure at Arthur Andersen was to get a tattoo on her foot-the figure of a Native American symbol known as “Dream Catcher.” That artifact, traditionally hung on a bedpost, is said to deliver up good dreams to the Great Spirit while incinerating bad ones.“I …

The first thing Chris Kirk did after she left an 18-year tenure at Arthur Andersen was to get a tattoo on her foot-the figure of a Native American symbol known as “Dream Catcher.” That artifact, traditionally hung on a bedpost, is said to deliver up good dreams to the Great Spirit while incinerating bad ones.

“I got the tattoo because it symbolizes freedom,” says Kirk. “I was finally going to live out my dreams.”

The dream she went on to pursue, once she left the button-down world of Big Five accounting, went well beyond piercing her epidermis with pigment-laden needles. “The dream was to deliver an outsourced finance and accounting solution,” says Kirk. “It was to participate with clients in becoming something like an ASP for processes as opposed to technology.”

And so the Tempe, AZ-based Leap-Source was born in the Fall of 1999, as Kirk and two partners led 33 Andersen defectors to a dream world financed with $65 million in venture capital from Chicago‘s GTCR Golder Rauner. Today, LeapSource has 450 employees and $18 million in revenues, with plans to grow to $315 million by 2004.

Kirk was chosen to head up the firm because she had run a national practice at Arthur Andersen, she says, and because “I have sales under my belt, I am older and wiser-and I have a tattoo.” Her last gig at Andersen was to head up its Phoenix-based national outsourcing practice, which she co-founded in 1995. It was there that Kirk first saw the opportunity in business process outsourcing, or BPO.

While at Andersen, Kirk helped negotiate megadeals, such as a $250 million outsourcing deal with General Motors, but the typical LeapSource deal is not likely to feature that kind of magnitude. “Our business model focuses on the middle market,” says Kirk. “That’s where we can deliver the highest value proposition-to those companies that can’t afford to recruit the best accounting talent.”

“The goal is to deliver high quality accounting at a low cost,” says Kirk. By sharing technology through relationship with ASPs, or applications service providers, which host and manage business solutions remotely, LeapSource can save customers between 20 and 3o percent in accounting costs.

Beyond cost cutting, BPO is also viewed as a strategic tool, allowing companies to jettison functions that fall outside their core competency. “Executives are focused on how their companies make money,” says Kirk. “And they don’t make money from their accounting operations.”

Ostensibly, one of Kirk’s biggest challeges would be competing with the likes of her former employer. But according to GartnerGroup analyst Rebecca Scholl, “the Big Five are not focused on BPO,” she says. “It’s one of many practice groups for them. Also, some clients are reluctant to outsource a process to the same firm that’s doing its auditing.”

“Pureplay” BPOs, as Scholl calls them, represent an alternative to vendors for which outsourcing is an outgrowth of their original competencies. Finance and accounting, she adds, is the fastest growing segment within BPO, with annual growth rates of 25 to 3o percent. For the moment, Scholl says, LeapSource has good position as “the only pureplay finance and accounting BPO in the U.S.” A


Vital statistics

Christine KIRK

CEO, LeapSource

“I got the tattoo because it symbolizes freedom.”

Birthplace: The Badlands of New Mexico, east of El Paso.

Age€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦€¦40

Education: BS, accounting, Arizona State University, 1981. “I finished college in three years just because I needed to get out.”

Family: Husband: Tom, who works as an accountant for Del Webb. Two children: Bill, 12, Maddie, 11.

Hobbies: Fly-fishing since the age of 18 months. Makes a yearly fly-fishing pilgrimage to Idaho with 11-member group-women only. “We go to cuss and lie and we can’t do that with our husbands around.”

Car: 1960 Ford pickup F100, dubbed “Rhett”; 1967 VW bug convertible, “Blossom”; both have over 200,000 miles and “they have character.”

Last book read: Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life, By Spencer Johnson. 

About peter buxbaum