Other board service
Forthright Solutions 2008-present
Social Venture Partners of Minnesota 2008-2020
XSELL Technologies 2013-2017
Genesys Works Twin Cities 2008-2017
Shavlik Technologies 2006-2011
Minneapolis Crisis Nursery 1997-2007
For Marty Leestma, board service is a team sport. He’s quick to credit fellow directors and company leadership for the exponential growth that occurred at Minneapolis-based retail tech developer SPS Commerce during his 15-year tenure.
“We laid out a working approach that was very much team-oriented,” he says.
Leestma stepped down from the SPS board earlier this year knowing how much had been accomplished. When he joined the board in 2006, SPS employed 150. Now it boasts 1,700 employees, who work with nearly 95,000 customers. In 2006, SPS was a $20 million company. At the end of 2020, it posted revenue of $313 million—and 80 consecutive quarters of growth—with net income of $45.6 million. And in the past five years, its stock price (Nasdaq: SPSC) has shot up nearly 400 percent.
Leestma sees the director’s role as helping company leaders craft a strategic vision for growth—what he calls “next-wave thinking.” He joined the SPS board as its first independent director—that is, someone who wasn’t an investor. He understood that running a company requires more than following a financial model.
He also knew what it was like to run a software business focused on the retail industry. From 2003 to 2005, he’d served as CEO of Retek, a Minneapolis-based maker of software for the retail industry. In 2005, he oversaw a bidding war between Oracle and SAP to acquire Retek. Oracle won, paying $669 million, and Leestma shifted to board service and investment opportunities.
From his CEO experience at Retek and his 23 years at Accenture, where he’d been global managing partner for the retail and consumer products industries, “I saw the difference that a good board could make,” he says. When he joined the SPS board, “I was excited to see if I could help a local company do well.”
Under Archie Black, who became president and CEO of SPS Commerce in 2001, the company shifted from software development to an integrated suite of retail supply-chain management services offered via the cloud. “Today, everyone knows what the cloud is, and it’s a very common approach to doing business,” Leestma says. But, he points out, in 2006, it was a fairly new concept. “[SPS] went through a lot of ups and downs until people became comfortable with buying this way.”
Black describes Leestma as “someone I could lean on and ask about leadership and strategic decisions.” What’s more, “Marty’s very easy to communicate with because he’s very direct. And when you didn’t agree, you had your discussion, and then you moved on. He expects a lot from others around him—he pushes people, which is great.”
When Leestma joined the board, SPS sold primarily to tier-three companies—companies with revenue of about $10 to $100 million, he recalls. Having spent most of his career working with Fortune 500s, Leestma thought he could help push SPS to sell to larger enterprises.
Scaling up the C-suite became a related challenge—making sure the CEO could lead, with the right team of executives in supporting roles. As outsiders looking in, directors can be more objective, Leestma says. “It’s not that Arch didn’t have the skill set himself,” he adds. “But when you’re fighting fires every day and trying to meet budgets, some of those things aren’t as apparent.”
In 2007, Black hired former Amazon finance director Kim Nelson as SPS’ first CFO. And to provide a strategic vision of the types of technology the company would need as it grew, SPS hired Jamie Thingelstad, who had experience with both startups and established enterprises, as CTO.
These days, SPS serves thousands of top mass retailers, including Costco, Walgreens, and Williams-Sonoma. Leestma believes that wouldn’t have happened if the company hadn’t gone public in 2010, which provided a financial “war chest” for expanding sales efforts and making acquisitions. At the time, Leestma worried that SPS was too small to take on the burdens of a public company. He admits now that it has worked out very well. As SPS’ first independent director, he helped Black build a non-investor board that has provided insights into future growth.
Though no longer on SPS’ board, Leestma remains active in the business world. He’s an investor, and his board work includes serving as chair for St. Louis Park-based Forthright Solutions, which provides alternative dispute resolution services for businesses.
He continues to matter-of-factly meet conflict head-on, with the philosophy that doing so can bring new and better results than avoiding it. “A good working relationship doesn’t mean we always have to agree,” Leestma notes. “In fact, I think it means something different, which is that you have to have enough mutual respect so that you can disagree and everyone understands that it’s not personal. It’s business, and everyone is trying to execute their roles and do the right thing.”