Harris Group in new hands Bell & Howell buys Baltimore-based software company

Software

November 19, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

The Harris Group, a fast growing Baltimore-based software company, has been acquired by Bell & Howell Co., the mail processing and information systems company, for more than $6 million.

The deal marks the second time that Baltimore native Albert M. Harris, 63, has founded a high technology company from scratch and later sold it to a deep pocket suitor.

In 1983, he sold Disc Inc., a computer software developer for the banking industry, to publicly held AGS Computers Inc. for $6 million. (AGS was later acquired by telecommunications giant Nynex Inc.)

While Harris declined to be specific about how much Bell & Howell paid to acquire his company, he said it was more than what AGS paid for Disc.

Located in the former London Fog plant, now known as Meadow Mill, the company had revenue last year of about $3 million. Company executives estimate revenue this year of about $4.5 million.

Harris said he decided to sell the Harris Group to Bell & Howell because the Skokie, Ill.-based company could provide access to a much larger market share than Harris could on its own.

"It's a good fit; this gives us exposure to thousands of customers and financial backing to go after that market; they need our product to compete," said Harris.

Publicly held Bell & Howell, which has been diversifying away from its former low-end film projector niche, netted $23.1 million on $902.8 million in sales last year.

In the deal, it gains the Harris Group's expertise in designing software programs which help mainframe computer programs rapidly reformat and manipulate print, image and data on documents, such as bank statements, and mail those documents in high-volume.

The Harris program, known as TransFormer, costs about $55,000. The company promotes the software as a tool that can reduce the expense and time of having computer technicians rewrite mainframe computer programs governing document production.

That process can take, on average, months to complete without a software program to handle it. Harris says its programs trim that time frame to weeks.

"This acquisition complements Bell & Howell's existing software offerings and extends our ability to help business improve the effectiveness, quality and efficiency of their customer operations, said Ben McSwiney, president of Bell & Howell Mail Processing Systems Co., a Bell & Howell subsidiary based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Bell & Howell, the Harris Group and Pitney Bowes Inc., a publicly held mailroom and bar code equipment company, are the chief competitors in the document-manipulation and high-volume mail-processing industry.

The Harris Group will become an operating unit of Bell & Howell Mail Processing subsidiary. Mail processing services accounted for 48 percent of company revenue in 1996. Harris, the founder, said he has agreed to stay on until December 1998 as vice president and general manager of the Harris Group.

Bell & Howell will keep the company headquartered in Baltimore and retain the company's 30 employees, including senior management.

The Harris Group's customer base includes financial services, insurance, telecommunications and printing industries. Clients include Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland, Allstate Insurance, MCI and the Internal Revenue Service.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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