In a time of smart railcars, smart hospitals, even smart farms, what is a machine worth, and what is the value of the software it relies on?
That's the kind of counting problem William F. "Bill" Stephenson is wrestling with as the newly named chief executive and executive-board chairman at De Lage Landen, a Netherlands-based, $43 billion-asset business lender with corporate clients in 36 countries.
Stephenson, whose appointment was announced Thursday, has worked at the operation's U.S. headquarters, now in Wayne, since 1987 - before its acquisition in 1999 as a division of Rabobank Group, the Dutch farmers' bank. De Lage Landen employs 5,400 worldwide, including 1,300 in the U.S.
In an interview last year, Stephenson told me that he recruits lenders from the industries the company targets, "so that when we sit across the desk from a doctor or a computer company or a construction company, it's with our people who understand that business, because they came from it."
In the 2008 financial crisis, De Lage Landen used that knowledge to triage troubled borrowers who needed a year's payment grace to survive - and who could be trusted to return from the dead because they had durable customers who would need them again.
This company had a Big Data focus before anyone called it that. "We've been collecting data on our customers for 30 years," Stephenson told me. "We provide them with marketing data on the industries they're financing, customers' payment history, and behavior." He said long-term relationships, even financial ones, are about more than cheap money.
Like De Lage Landen, SAP A.G., the Germany-based business-software giant, also elevated a suburban Philadelphia resident this spring, Bill McDermott, based at SAP's Americas headquarters in Newtown Square, into the job of global chief executive.
Meanwhile, SAP's former top India executive, Vishal Sikka, has been named the new CEO at Infosys, the big Bangalore-based IT outsourcing firm struggling to cope with change in how its Western corporate clients manage their computer-based services in the smartphone and cloud-server era.
"Dr. Sikka will have his work cut out for him," wrote Joseph Foresi, analyst at Janney Capital Markets, since Infosys's "execution has been inconsistent, revenue growth has trailed industry averages, and commoditization is creating challenges particularly given the present (profit) margin profile."
Sikka takes over Infosys at a time when newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi is encouraging expatriate software engineers and managers to return home and build Indian companies.
The cost advantage Asian firms formerly enjoyed over U.S. corporations has narrowed, and a new generation of specialized IT outsourcing firms like Wayne-based LiquidHub (which counts Vanguard, SEI, Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, and Subaru of America among its clients) are moving more of their own people to work at their corporate clients in the U.S., instead of moving all the work overseas.
Brokers led by Tom Weitzel at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) are offering the Lockheed Martin engineering center, on 53 acres in Newtown, Bucks County, with three office and research buildings and a four-year-old conference center, for sale at a price of $30 million.
The company said last year that it planned to close the Space Systems site, idling or relocating 1,000 engineers and other staff at what had been Newtown's leading private employer, after a decline in government contracts.