marchFIRST Parts with Bernard

It’s official: battered interactive shop marchFIRST is parting ways with several of its top executives, including founder, chairman and chief executive Robert Bernard — a move expected for some time by industry watchers.

Bernard, along with president and chief operating officer Thomas Metz and Joseph Bong, executive vice president for marchFIRST’s client services group, all resigned for undisclosed reasons.

According to a statement released by the Chicago-based company, marchFIRST’s board of directors appointed Steve Pollema to the post of president. Pollema had previously served as executive vice president of global operations.

“I would like to thank [Bernard], [Metz] and [Bong] for the vision and commitment that they shared with the people of marchFIRST and our clients,” said Pollema in the statement. “With the field leaders, I look forward to working with the board’s new executive committee and our newly appointed chief financial officer, Michael Salvati, as we navigate current market conditions and work to attain our long-term growth and profitability goals.”

The board also said it has hired executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International to assist in the search for a new CEO.

Rumors have been circulating for some time that a major investor, Francisco Partners, was planning to pull the plug on Bernard and much of marchFIRST’s management — a move that could buoy the firm’s market valuation, which has been lingering near the $1 mark for some time.

According to the company’s statement Monday, a three-member committee made up of directors will oversee marchFIRST’s search for new management. Two of the committee’s members are partners at Francisco Partners, David Standon and Neil Garfinkel.

In December, the partners had made a $150 million cash investment in marchFIRST, which had previously disclosed in regulatory statements that it would need about $100 million in financing to remain afloat until this year.

A spokesperson from marchFIRST said the move was largely intended to “achieve operational efficiency” and to increase near-term performance and financial visibility. She denied that the changes were in response to insiders’ discontent with the firm’s management.

However, she did say, that with regard to Salvati’s earlier appointment to CFO, as equity investors, Francisco Partners “are always involved in management changes.”

Francisco Partners declined to comment, instead referring all calls to marchFIRST.

The third participant in the board’s executive transition committee is Barry Moore, vice chairman of Kurt Salmon and Associates — another large investor.

The company gave no indication of whether there would be additional staff changes, layoffs, or other business changes, although Stanton said in the statement that the executive committee “is currently evaluating the company’s operating and financing plans and strategic priorities in order to move the company forward.”

Bernard had overseen marchFIRST since its creation almost exactly a year ago, in the merger of USWeb/CKS and Whittman-Hart, which Bernard had founded in 1984. Bernard remains a major shareholder in the firm.

“It has been a privilege and honor to lead the professionals of marchFIRST over the past 17 years,” he said in the statement. “I am incredibly proud of the talented people who provide insight and solutions to the company’s valued clients, and I am confident that through their dedication and determination marchFIRST will emerge stronger than ever as a world-class consulting company.”

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