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Published February 01 2011

Burgum hopes to do for Intelligent InSites what he did for Great Plains Software

A growing software company, a vast market waiting to be tapped and Doug Burgum stepping to take the reins: In the offices of Intelligent InSites in downtown Fargo, it’s beginning to feel a bit like 1984.

That was the year Burgum took over Great Plains Software and set to work shaping the company into a tech powerhouse, culminating in a billion-dollar merger that brought Microsoft to town.

Two and a half decades later, as Burgum, 54, steps up as Intelligent InSites’ interim chief executive, he’s looking to do it again.

This time around, he sees a winner in a company that makes systems that let hospitals and care centers track everything from patients to medical tools in real time using small radio tags. The technology aims to confront a host of organizational issues that plague health care facilities, where tracking down the right person or piece of equipment amid shift changes and constant movement can turn into a huge time sink.

With health care providers eagerly seeking ways to cut costs and the long-term care market growing, the company – which currently works with a few dozen care facilities nationwide – figures the time is right to expand aggressively. To do so, the board opted to hand the keys to Burgum, who successfully navigated a similar growth curve at Great Plains (Burgum, a board member, recused himself from the decision).

The move, effective Monday, is a natural fit in a few respects. Intelligent InSites was the first company to get funding from Arthur Ventures, the venture capital group Burgum formed in 2008. The company employs a dozen former Microsoft Great Plains workers, and moved two years ago from North Dakota State University’s tech incubator to 102 Broadway – right across the hall from Burgum’s Kilbourne Group.

“It makes it an easier commute than flying to Washington state,” Burgum joked – referring to his former commute to Microsoft corporate headquarters in Redmond, Wash., a slog that factored into his decision to leave the company in 2007.

Outgoing chief executive Mark Rheault, a co-founder and a major shareholder of Intelligent InSites, will stay on as a consultant. He said Burgum’s track record made him an obvious choice to take over at what Rheault called “a natural transition point” in the company’s growth.

“He’s done everything that we’re trying to do,” Rheault said.

While Rheault said it’s bittersweet to step away from the day-to-day operations of a company he’s run for years, he also said reaching a point where it’s prudent for a more experienced executive to take charge “is actually a milestone in the company’s growth that’s exciting to get to.”

Burgum, who was emphatic in praising Rheault’s tenure as chief executive, doesn’t plan to be in the job for long himself. Instead, he’s tasked with finding a long-term chief executive – preferably in the next six months, he said. In fact, he won’t get paid until he does: His salary in the interim job is $1, and his compensation package doesn’t kick in until he finds a successor (he indicated that at this point in his career, he’s less interested in compensation and more interested in building up a company he believes will be a hit).

He’s also focused on retaining the company’s current talent and seeking the investment capital needed to expand. He said it’s reasonable to expect the company – which currently employs 48 people and has more than doubled since early 2009 – to double again in a the next year, whether in headcount or through other metrics. In the long run, he said, he sees a market opportunity that could support “hundreds and hundreds” of employees.

As for juggling his work at the Kilbourne Group, a leadership role at a California tech company, his new interim CEO job, and other responsibilities?

“It’s going to be a little bit of a balancing act,” Burgum said, adding that his son has already branded his retirement “an ‘epic fail.’ ”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502