Résumés from information technology experts and software developers are already flowing into the newly announced Ameritas Technologies, an IT and business process management firm that will soon take up a floor in the Chase Bank building in downtown Baton Rouge.
“Since our announcement on Tuesday, we have already received more than 300 résumés,” said Brian Keane, CEO of the startup company. “Many of them are from Baton Rouge and throughout Louisiana. But there’s also several of them from around the country. In most cases, they’re Louisiana natives looking to come back to the state.”
Ameritas must have at least 53 workers employed at the end of 2013 and an annual payroll of $3.9 million to receive performance-based incentives offered by the state, said Stephen Moret, secretary of the Department of Economic Development.
Beginning in 2014, the company will get a $125,000-a-year subsidy over 10 years to help cover the cost of leasing office space if Ameritas meets job-creation goals outlined by the department.
“If the company does not meet its payroll obligations for any year, the annual grant will be reduced proportionately,” Moret said.
The job-creation goals are realistic, Keane said.
“I worked through these with LED,” he added. “They are numbers that I’m very comfortable with, and I think are very achievable. And I hope that we can do better.”
Ameritas Technologies hopes to eventually employ 300 workers over the next three years to field IT jobs for companies from across the country in what Keane says is a trend to reverse the exporting of this type of work to other countries like China, India or Eastern Europe.
“The nature of development has changed, and it’s sort of starting to swing back toward the United States,” Keane said, speaking Thursday from Boston, his home base. “I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been very successful in this industry and I see it as something that I can do to help the country. It’s not just bringing jobs back to the United States. It’s doing that when we’ve got a huge amount of unemployment and we’ve got a shortage of IT workers.”
The IT business is something Keane, 51, is familiar with. From 1985 to 2006, he was president and CEO of Keane Inc., an IT and business processes firm founded by his father. From 2007 to 2011, Keane ran Dextrys, a similar company.
However, Keane’s tenure at Keane Inc. was not without turmoil. Allegations of sexual harassment by two former employees forced him to step down from the company in 2006. The claims cost Keane Inc., which was a publicly traded company, $1.4 million in settlements, according to court documents in a separate class-action lawsuit brought by attorneys for shareholders upset with various developments at the company.
That lawsuit in 2007 claimed that from 1995 to 2002, top-ranking Keane Inc. officials — which included Brian Keane — repeatedly engaged in the improper practice of backdating stock options to the dates of quarterly and/or annual lows in the company’s stock price.
“Indeed, on three separate occasions, defendants dated Keane’s stock option grants at the lowest closing price of the year and on two other occasions dated the grants at the second lowest closing price of the year,” the lawsuit reads.
A stock option gives the holder the right to buy a stock at a certain price in the future. By buying low, Keane Inc. officials could benefit by then selling the stock as the company’s stock price increased, the lawsuit claimed.
The lawsuit was settled out of court and the amount was not disclosed; however, lawyers for the stockholders were awarded $1.25 million in fees, according to court documents. As part of the settlement, Keane Inc. did not admit to any wrongdoing and said the settlement was sought to avoid costly and prolonged litigation. Speeding up the settlement proceedings was an impending $854 million sale of Keane Inc. to another IT and business services firm. The stockholders’ lawsuit also claimed this move was an attempt by Keane officials to “give the Keane family liquidity for their substantial and highly illiquid block of company stock and further to provide defendants with indemnification for their prior misconduct.”
For his part, Keane puts this chapter behind him, saying it will not affect his ability to attract top talent and clients for newly launched Ameritas Technologies. And Moret, the state’s economic development secretary, did not respond to whether the state was aware of the situation at Keane Inc.
“This was six years ago,” Keane said Thursday. “And it’s all been resolved. And I’ve since been CEO of Dextrys for four years. And it was never a concern.
“Just the fact that there are so many colleagues that I’ve worked with in the past as well as clients that I’ve worked with in the past that are anxious to be part of this very positive story about bringing jobs to Baton Rouge and to America, I think is testimony to the fact that that’s really a non-issue,” he continued.
Ameritas is due to be open for business in early October. In the meantime, Keane intends to take care of the early hiring needs, put together a management team and work toward landing clients.
The company will focus on clients looking for IT and other services where work can be done in a collaborative fashion, in real time and possibly in the same time zone. This is a reversal of some of the impediments companies ran into in the last decade when lots of IT work went offshore to other continents, Keane said.
Ameritas will likely participate in a range of economic development incentives offered by the state, such as earning digital media tax credits. The 25 percent tax credit can be earned on in-state digital media investments, with another 10 percent available if those production costs include Louisiana payroll.