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Supply Chain News: Gartner Founder Gideon Gartner Dead at 85


Challenged Analysts to Critique Each Other, be Controversial

Dec. 22, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Most people in technology areas generally and supply chain professionals specifically are familiar with analyst firm Gartner and its Magic Quadrants, Hype Cycles, annual Supply Chain Executive Conference and much more.

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"If what you're writing about isn't controversial, don't write about it," Gartner said.

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But very few of those people probably have any idea how Gartner was started. That story came to light just recently with the passing of Gartner founder Gideon Gartner December 12 at 85.

It turns out Gartner was a former IBM executive and then successful Wall Street analyst who in the 1970s, as the computer era began, saw an opportunity: companies would need advice on what products they should buy and at what price.

So he formed Gartner Group in 1979 in Stamford, CT, with the name changed to just Gartner many years later.

In an obituary in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper says the business started with pithy two-page "research notes" that clients would receive on various technology topics, a tool still in place today, even if the two-page limit is now long gone.

Spending heavily on top sales people and research analysts, the firm grew steadily, and is now a $4.2 billion business, driven by research subscription sales and a huge portfolio of technology conferences, though like everything else that took a big hit in 2020 from the pandemic.

The WSJ piece notes that "Former colleagues said Mr. Gartne was better as a visionary than as a chief executive. He had so many ideas - and was so insistent that colleagues should rush them into the market-that he sometimes became a distraction."

In fact, the Garner board of directors pushed him out of the CEO role in 1993.

That led Garner to start a competing firm, Giga Information Group, a few years later. But it was not nearly as successful as Gartner Group, and was sold to Forrester Research in 2003 for $60 million.

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To ensure Gartner opinions and research were on solid ground, the WSJ article says Gideon Gartner used the technique of what some called "stabbing each other in the front," with analysts expected to challenge each other's work so they would be well prepared for client conversations.

"We were so tough on each other, a client could never be tougher than that," Jonathan Yarmis, a former Gartner analyst, to the Journal.

He had other quirks. The Journal relays an anecdote that he made Gartner executive Bruce Rogow give him a blank check to cover any losses on overbooking of hotel rooms for a conference he was afraid would miss attendance forecasts. Fortunately for Rogow, a late surge of registrants got to the needed number.

Gartner majored in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but soon found he was a lot more interested in computer programming. He did though also get an MBA from MIT.

He started Gartner with David Stein, an executive at Harris Corp.

Gartner realized that success in the research business would involve being provocative.

"If what you're writing about isn't controversial, don't write about it," he said.

Saatchi & Saatchi, a London-based advertising giant, bought Gartner for about $77 million in 1988 as part of a disastrous diversification strategy, only to sell it two years later to investors including Dun & Bradstreet and Bain Capital. Gartner left after battles with the new owners.

Gartner is now a publically traded company.

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