Product Transformation Christian Idiodi

The Freedom to Grow

By Christian Idiodi

Every transformation is different–but also the same. Confronted by competitors that are more agile and innovative, every company undertaking a digital transformation needs to move from the past into the future–from business as usual to business conducted at warp speed.

That’s what happened with Datasite. The company was originally founded as Merrill Corporation which specialized in printing financial and disclosure documents, such as registration statements, prospectuses, and proxy statements. As the needs of its customers began to move toward theCloud, the company realized that it had to change if it wanted to remain viable.

Chief Product Officer Thomas Fredell, recalls how Datasite had previously been a slow-moving, hierarchal, risk aversive organization. “Imagine room after room without a ray of light, every one of those rooms filled with ten-foot-high cubicles, every one of those cubicles an impenetrable wall totally averse to any form of collaboration or shared vision. That’s the old culture we were up against. No collaboration and little creativity. To make our transformation work, we had to break down those walls and bring in the light.”

That’s exactly what Datasite did. To successfully transform the company, its CEO created the vision of a fast-moving, decentralized business in which people and ideas took precedence over the status quo. In 2020, Merrill Corporation rebranded itself as Datasite. The identity was meant to reflect the completion of the company’s 2018 digital transformation in which it divested its legacy financial printing business to focus on its global, SaaS-based technology platform for the M&A community.

None of this happened by accident. According to Thomas Fredell, Datasite’s successful transformation was built on its adherence to a core principle: giving people the freedom to grow. “When you tell people that there’s a new way of doing things and that you want them to challenge the status quo, they’re usually wary. That’s understandable, especially with a company like Merrill which rarely welcomed innovation.”

Instead, every new idea fell into the category of an enterprise initiative. Before it got the green light, it had to pass through endless rounds of scrutiny. For Fredell and his team, enterprise initiative was just another term for death by analysis.

To remedy the situation, the company implemented a dramatic cultural change. The authority to get things done would no longer come from a person’s title but their influence. People were no longer expected to sit quietly in their darkened cubicles. Instead, they were given the freedom to question the status quo, to collaborate and brainstorm.

“Freedom also means giving people the opportunity to learn through failure,” says Fredell. “At Datasite, we want every person to be the best version of themselves; to be more valuable next year than you are this year. That’s the only way for the company and its employees to grow.”

Does Datasite’s philosophy really work? Before the transformation, it could take the company months to complete a simple analysis. Today, it’s pushing the envelope to the point where it is introducing something new to its customers virtually every day. All of this speed and innovation has translated to the bottom line. In 2019, company revenue increased by more than 30% as it facilitated over 10,000 deals annually. Today, Datasite is not only the industry leader but highly admired for its culture of innovation.

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