Tech Deal Couples Homegrown Firms with Acquisition, Tribridge Grows to 200 Employees

TAMPA -- Tribridge Inc. has bought Administrative Partners Inc. in a move Tribridge says will not only strengthen its delivery of Microsoft products to hundreds of clients but also open the door to other deals.

The company has an initiative to expand into new geographical markets.

"You'll start to see more acquisitions from us, and we're working on a number of them," said CEO Tony DiBenedetto.

Terms of the API acquisition were not disclosed, but all of its 25 employees including the remaining partners are expected to join Tribridge.

Sandra Gacio, who had been administrator at the now-defunct law firm Annis Mitchell Cockey Edward & Roehn before becoming API's CEO, will join the Tribridge management team, as well as Joe Simmons, Greg Pierce and Russ Riley, who had previous careers either with local law firms or services that worked specifically with law firms.

Their new titles, however, are a different story. Tribridge has a history of eschewing formal job titles, and DiBenedetto could only say they would have a role in the management of the 200 employees now at Tribridge.

"We've been around for a little over 10 years, as has Tribridge, and you have opportunities to merge with or be acquired by companies all the time," said Pierce, API's director of technology. "It's very seldom that you run into a group whose business values are so closely aligned as Tribridge's and API's are."

The immediate change for API's clients, primarily law firms requiring administrative services, will be a new name handling their account and a suite of new services powered by software and business applications from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). "

Some of the biggest changes, in the setting part, is that we get to deliver to our clients a greater breadth of solutions, and we have the ability to tap into Tribridge's access to Microsoft," Pierce said. "I think that's what's going to allow us to deliver more value to our customers."

Finding the right people
With businesses depending more and more on outsourced network integration and management, many companies looking to get a foothold in the market are finding the need to expand services. Developing expansion products and opening to new geographies or verticals could take months, if not years, so a much more effective way to get the growth is through acquisitions. "

Take a small underperforming company in the IT services world, and once you acquire it, you offer all of the services of the combined two companies, bringing more value to their clients," said Len Terranova, a sales executive in the Tampa office of Ciber Inc. (NYSE: CBR), which has been undergoing its own growth-through-acquisition strategy in recent years. "A lot of acquisition is normally done to save overhead or to cut and consolidate overhead, but [the Tribridge acquisition of API] should probably result in more jobs as opposed to less jobs, and that's what acquisition should be."

The genesis of API came from lunchtime conversations between Gacio and former partner Debra Douglas, who at the time was an administrator with Zinober & McCrea in Tampa, according to a March 1998 story in the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The goal was to find a way to do administrative outsourcing for firms like the ones they were working for independently, and soon after, API was born.

By 2006, API had grown from eight people to 42 and had reported networking revenue of $5.7 million, accounting for 88 percent of the company's total revenue, according to TBBJ's "Book of Lists."

Tribridge typically has kept much of its overall performance out of public view, but revenue has grown 50 percent in 2008 over the previous year, DiBenedetto said. "

Obviously, it's tougher economic times, but we're very fortunate to have customers in so many different geographies," he said. Tribridge's biggest obstacle to continued growth is finding the right people to help implement Microsoft technologies, a shortage of trained experts that has plagued a large part of the technology industry.

Company: Administrative Partners Inc.
Nature of business: Focused on serving law firms, the company provided technology products and support.
Headquarters: Tampa
Founded: 1998
TURNING POINT: Acquired by Tribridge Inc.