Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte’s campaign is based largely on his extraordinary business success, as the co-founder of a Bozeman software firm that grew into a global company employing 1,100 people.
Gianforte pitches himself as a “business guy” who knows how to get things done in the business world – and who can do the same for Montana, helping its economy thrive.
Yet some supporters of his opponent, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, are now criticizing elements of Gianforte’s business record, saying his former company’s success sometimes relied on “outsourcing” U.S. jobs overseas.
Good Jobs Montana, a political action committee funded by the Democratic Governors Association, has been running a TV ad that says the firm made “a fortune helping companies while helping American companies ship jobs overseas.”
A former top executive at the company, Susan Carstensen, also says that while she gives Gianforte “enormous credit” for building the company, it did provide products that enabled U.S. companies to move customer-service call centers overseas, where labor is cheaper.
Gianforte’s firm, RightNow Technologies, created software and other products designed to help large companies and institutions automate customer-service functions, thus reducing labor costs, says Carstensen, who is supporting Bullock for governor.
“Greg is a single-issue candidate, saying `I’m going to create jobs,’ but his experience is in eliminating jobs,” she says.
Gianforte says RightNow grew into a global business with 2,000 business customers, and that some had call centers in North America and some had them elsewhere.
“That was their decision,” he told MTN News. “We provided technology that helped deliver better customer experience.”
He also notes that RightNow recruited heavily in Montana and hired many college graduates from within the state. When it was sold to Oracle Corp. in 2012 for $1.8 billion, RightNow employed about 500 people in Bozeman.
“I think that many RightNow Technology employees who poured their heart and soul into what we created in Montana, that had never been done before, take exception to (Carstensen’s) comments,” he said.
RightNow, founded in Bozeman in the mid-1990s by Gianforte and his wife, Susan, took full advantage of the birth and explosion of the Internet.
As companies started creating websites to sell and service their products, they sometimes became overwhelmed with incoming web traffic and telephone calls from customers.
RightNow created software that helped them respond to most of those inquiries electronically, greatly reducing the need for staff to do the same job. RightNow customers included hundreds of businesses and government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration.
RightNow also was a pioneer in “cloud” computing, creating data centers that would host the software used by its customers, rather than requiring the customers store it on their own computer hardware.
Carstensen says this cloud-based product is what made it easier for large companies to place call centers overseas.
Even though RightNow software enabled companies to handle most customer inquiries electronically, they still needed employees to handle some incoming calls, at a call center.
Before the cloud, a foreign call center had to have its hardware at or near the same location, she says. The cloud enabled firms to forgo the hardware, so they could set up foreign call centers more easily, pairing cheaper labor with RightNow’s software, Carstensen says.
“You could use the same system, the same software, whether it was in India or Indiana,” she says. “It’s a great solution for businesses to give them maximum control over customer data and flexibility over where the workers are.”
Carstensen also says that RightNow even contracted some of its own work overseas, hiring software engineers in Armenia and India.
Gianforte says his business record speaks for itself.
“We created one of the state’s largest commercial employers and we helped corporations all over the world deliver better customer service,” he told MTN News. “We have $230 million in annual revenue in 2012 before we finished up. …
“I think Montanans are smart enough to see through these false attacks.”
Oracle, which bought RightNow, still employs several hundred people in Bozeman, but refused to say precisely how many.
An Oracle spokeswoman said U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations prevent it from disclosing how many employees it has at specific sites.
An SEC spokesman in Washington, D.C., said he knew of no such regulation.