Q&A with Gerry Cohen, President & CEO of business intelligence software provider Information Builders

The business intelligence (BI) industry has undergone numerous innovations since Gerry Cohen founded Information Builders in 1975. In the 37 ensuing years, Gerry has adapted to these changes and grown Information Builders into one of the leading independent providers of BI, with tens of thousands of customers in over 60 countries.

Last week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Gerry to learn how he started Information Builders and discover his secret for the company’s continued success.

Q: Tell us a little about your background.

A: I graduated from college with an engineering degree and began doing what was called “operations research.” Essentially. I used mathematics to solve business problems. One of my first jobs out of college was with Mathematica, a consulting firm located in Princeton, NJ. We did early work on providing a query capability to non-programmers at a time when COBOL, a formal programming language, was the query standard.

Q: What did you hope to achieve in starting Information Builders?

A: I started Information Builders in 1975 with the goal of developing software that would allow non-programmers to create their own information systems. In those days, you had to write a full COBOL program to get even the simplest information out of a database. Information Builders set out to change this. The resulting product, known as FOCUS, was the industry’s first fourth-generation language. FOCUS provided a new way for users without formal technical training or computer programming skills to work with information systems.

Q: How did you decide on the location for your business?

A: I’m a native of Manhattan, and I always imagined starting a business in the city where I grew up. I felt a responsibility to contribute to New York City’s economy and help grow it into a dominant player in the tech space. I believe there’s a perception among many entrepreneurs that they must go to Silicon Valley to start a technology business when in reality, New York is one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the country. When it comes to choosing a location, I urge entrepreneurs to choose a city where they want to be an agent of change and influence and not simply follow a trend.

Q: What factors have contributed to the success of your business?

A: In my opinion, our success at Information Builders stems from superior customer service and a strong commitment to innovation. I always wanted our customers to feel like part of a family, and today, I believe they do. We constantly strive to provide our customers with the best tools on the market, and in return, they keep coming back.

Q: You’ve held the title of CEO for longer than most. How do you stay relevant and remain effective in your role?

A: Over a decade ago the United States abolished mandatory retirement ages. I am a recipient of that benefit. You do your job well, you stay relevant. In my area, doing your job “well” means that you adapt as the market changes. In 37 year, the market has gone from batch processing, to time-sharing, to mini-computers, to personal computers, to client-server computing, to the Internet, to…? The key is to embrace these changes and evolve alongside them.

Q: Based on your own experience, what’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

A: People increasingly use the term entrepreneur to imply someone who wants to make money, but really, the term implies someone who goes into business because they’re passionate about what they’re doing. I’m in the software business because I love the business. So, future entrepreneur, love what you are doing first.

Gerald D. Cohen is president and CEO of Information Builders, an independent leader in business intelligence (BI) solutions and the largest software manufacturer in New York City.

Gerry co-founded Information Builders in 1975 with the mission to develop a software product that would allow non-programmers to create their own information systems. The resulting product, known as FOCUS, was the industry’s first fourth-generation language, thus delivering an innovative way for people without formal computer programming skills to work with information systems.

Building on this foundation for the past 37 years, Information Builders’ solutions have been used to construct business intelligence systems for thousands of leading companies, universities, and government agencies around the world. The company’s business intelligence software, WebFOCUS, is the category leader in Web-based reporting.

Through Gerry’s dedication, Information Builders’ customers include most of the Fortune 100 and U.S. federal government agencies. Headquartered in New York City with 60 offices worldwide, the company employs 1,450 people. A native of Manhattan and a lifelong supporter of New York City, Gerry served as chairman of the New York Software Industry Association, a trade organization of more than 200 software and information technology companies in the New York metropolitan area. In 2001, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani recognized Gerry for his contributions to the city’s economic and professional development.

Gerry is a frequent speaker and published writer on the topic of information technology. He spoke at the inauguration of the City University of New York Institute for Software Design and Development, which is dedicated to attracting, training, and retaining the brightest development talent for New York’s software companies.

Mr. Cohen was also honored with the prestigious New York Academy of Sciences Mayor’s Award for excellence in technology. Additionally, Mr. Cohen and Information Builders were recently honored by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce for growth and efforts in supporting international commerce.


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