The best companies are more than a place to work. They can even take on some qualities of home — a really cool home. Eileen Martinson, CEO of software company Sparta Systems, had something like this in mind when she worked with architects on a new 30,000-square-foot headquarters in Hamilton. Little did she know that the building would literally have to serve as a home, albeit it temporary, for a number of the people who work there.
“We had been located in Monmouth County,” says Martinson. “We moved just a week before the hurricane. Call it a CEO’s vision, or call it luck,” she jokes.
On a more serious note, she adds that “many of our employees were affected. Three lost their homes.” The new offices had been designed to be a pleasant place to collaborate. “We have a two-story employee forum area,” says the CEO. “There’s a coffee bar, a kitchen, a video game center.” The idea was to make an appealing space that would draw in the hard-to-get tech talent that the company needs. In the days following Hurricane Sandy, it doubled as an oasis for their families.
“Employees brought their kids and their spouses,” says Martinson. “We had hurricane lunches. We sent them home with dinners.” The headquarters’ debut provided a good test for Martinson’s office design goals. “We wanted the employee forum area to be like the kitchen of a home,” she says.
Sparta left its Holmdel offices because it was growing fast and needed more space. Also, the offices were outdated, says Martinson. They featured tall cubicles that did nothing to promote collaboration. The state was eager to retain the company and offered $2 million in incentives for the retention of jobs and the addition of new jobs.
The company, which spent $4 million to renovate its new space, has 230 employees worldwide, 130 of them in Hamilton, and expects to double in size within the next few years. Martinson says that Hamilton’s location in a part of the state known for its deep vein of technology talent is important to that growth. Convenient transportation is important, too, and she mentions Frontier Airline’s new presence at Mercer Airport as a big plus.
Sparta’s main product is TrackWise software, which is used to reduce risk, manage compliance, and improve safety. The software is used in a number of industries, but has been particularly successful in the pharmaceutical industry, where, says Martinson, it is used by all 30 major pharmaceutical companies.
She provides a simple explanation of how the software works by drawing a mental picture of an assembly line full of white pills. “If a green pill pops out, the software can take all the steps to stop the line, send out all the notifications, and begin the regulatory process.”
The deviation might have been noticed by an assembly line worker or by an electronic sensor connected with the software. In other cases a deviation — whether in the manufacture of a drug, a candy bar, or a dentist’s drill — might be noted by an end user. In any scenario, the software is able to quickly get the documentation and remediation process started.
The software can even signal deviations before they get into the marketplace, and that is the goal. Says Martinson: “the best recall is the recall that never happens.”
Sparta Systems, a private company, is backed by venture firms Summit Partners and Altaris Capital Partners. The venture firms brought Martinson aboard as CEO in July, 2011. “The company was doing well,” she says, “but they saw bigger opportunities.” With more than 20 years experience in the software industry, Martinson, who followed an unusual road to the executive suite, was asked to grow the company significantly and to expand its markets.
Growth is expected to come from replicating success in the pharmaceutical industry in “adjacent” industries, specifically medical devices, consumer products, and electronics. “We want the same success there,” says Martinson.
The company also plans to grow through investment in product innovations. “That’s where a lot of our R&D hires come in,” she says. The company is also implementing a global accounts program aimed at very large customers with operations in many markets. Finally, Sparta is pinning rapid growth on retaining, recruiting, and training employees.
Despite all the talk about a recession and unemployment, says Martinson, there is not enough top tech talent to go around. She names software engineers and analysts as being among in-demand employees. Her company needs more of these experts as it prepares to launch new products in the areas of analytics, mobility, and cloud computing. “A lot of people want those skills,” she says of competitors.
Martinson came by her own impressive skills via a slightly unusual route. Prior to joining Sparta she was COO of Allscripts, a clinical software company. She has been a top executive at a number of other companies, including Oracle Consulting, Siebel, Gartner, and SAP America. But this is not the future her parents, Jerry and Jeanne McDonald, an advertising executive and a homemaker-turned-retail ad executive, saw for her.
“I come from a traditional Catholic family,” Martinson says. “I had 12 years of Catholic education, 13 if you include kindergarten. My father would send a girl to college only if she wanted to be a teacher or a nurse.” Neither occupation appealed to her, so she took a job as a customer service clerk. In much less time that it would take to earn a bachelor’s degree, she was running the manufacturing company. “I made three times what my friends would make” upon earning an R.N. or a teaching certificate, she says.
Her eyes opened to a world of possibilities, Martinson continued to work — while at the same time raising her children and commuting from South Jersey to Philadelphia, where she earned a degree from Philadelphia University by attending night classes for 13 years. She is still proud of the 3.9 grade point average she achieved. Now vice chair of the university’s board of trustees and Philadelphia University 2012 Innovation Medal recipient, she has set up a $1 million fund for capstone projects through which seniors solve business problems. Martinson also mentors the women’s basketball team, hosts alumni and seniors during networking dinners and events, assists with internships, and offers career advice.
Martinson’s latest job came at a good time for her. “I consider myself a New Jersey native and was ready to come back,” says the executive, who had worked out of state for many years.
The year that she accepted the position at Sparta, Martinson married John Martinson, founder and managing partner of Lenox Drive-based Edison Ventures, a venture capital firm. The two met, says Martinson, through mutual friends while she was working in New York. “Sometimes you meet on the back nine,” she says of the romance. They were married at Jasna Polana and in lieu of gifts requested donations be made to the USO Wounded Warrior Operation Enduring Care Project. “We were happy to have helped raise a substantial amount of money for this worthwhile cause,” she says.
The charity is close to Martinson’s heart. Her youngest son, Brian Basho, a Marine infantryman, has just returned from a difficult assignment in Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. He is now attending Monmouth University.
The Sparta CEO also recently joined Thomas Edison State College on its Foundation board.
Meanwhile, Martinson, who happily refers to herself as “a newlywed,” has settled with her husband in Bucks County. The couple also have a home at the Jersey Shore, in Avon by the Sea. They enjoy spending time with their grown children and grandson.
In addition to the substantial time that they spend at their respective companies, the Martinsons head up the Martinson Family Foundation, which aims to teach educators — mostly middle school teachers — the skills they need to excite their students about science and mathematics. They also collect Thomas Edison memorabilia. The New Jersey inventor has been an inspiration for Eileen Martinson, who is drawn to his brilliance in “combining innovation with business savvy.”
While she has not become a nurse or a teacher, it is fair to say that Martinson — tech executive, philanthropist, and collector — is living a life that would make any parent proud. Come to think of it, it would make Thomas Edison proud, even though he might not fully see the advantages of cloud computing or mobility software.
Sparta Systems, 2000 Waterview Drive, Suite 300, Hamilton 08691; 609-807-5100. Eileen Martinson, CEO. www.spartasystems.com.