Waters: Around the World in 99 Days

By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

A manufacturer of scientific instruments forced a troubled British subsidiary to do things its way.

More than 100 handpicked senior managers were summoned to a conference room at the Milford, Mass., headquarters of Waters Corp., a manufacturer of analytical instruments for the pharmaceutical and scientific industries.

They were mostly in the dark.

All they knew when they arrived on Monday, July 22, 2002, was that they had been selected to participate in a weeklong planning meeting. A handful of team leaders knew a bit more.

By 9:30 a.m., the secret was out. Micromass, which had been a high-flying subsidiary in Manchester, England, would no longer be allowed to run itself independently. All operations would be completely integrated into Waters.

In 99 days.

By Oct. 28, all sales, distribution and support functions of the company, which had sales offices in the U.S., Canada and Europe and operated globally through distributors and agents, would be unified. Micromass would become a Waters brand. New reporting structures and compensation would take effect. And all of Micromass' methods of recording sales, compiling financial reports and other operations would be dropped. In just a little more than three months, the entire crew would have to adopt a wholly new set of information systems—and force-fit existing processes to work with the SAP software that was Waters' existing platform.

"Some call it militaristic," says Waters Chief Information Officer Paul Newton. "But when people are able to go back and do things the old way, they will. To the extent you pull that out from under them, they don't have a road home."

The 99-day fixed march was a shock, because Micromass had been, as Waters financial officer John Ornell puts it, a "home run" for the company.

This article was originally published on 2003-10-01
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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