Cezanne HR’s CEO, co-owner, and co-founder: Alberto Gabbai is a true entrepreneur and pioneer in the HR software industry. Developing an interest in the burgeoning field of software programming in 1971, Alberto left university to start his own business: Gruppo Formula. And for the last 50 years, Alberto has continued to create and lead innovative organisations.
Alberto, can you tell us a bit about your first venture: Gruppo Formula?
Gruppo Formula was the first business I founded. We offered business software and technology solutions, with our flagship product being ‘Financial Manager’ (an accounting system). We started in Italy and expanded to have subsidiaries in Europe and South America, growing to the point where we had 700 employees and we were publicly listed.
By 2000, I realised that I was missing the challenge of operating a start-up business, so I sold Gruppo Formula, retaining a small part of the business – an innovative future-facing HR project we’d started – and that became Cezanne Software.
How did Cezanne Software evolve into Cezanne HR?
Nurturing Cezanne Software was like taking a graft from a well-established plant and growing it into its own successful entity. I enjoyed the opportunity to try new things again – working with a new product and in new markets. We trialled establishing the business from the US for the first few years, but ultimately decided that our European footing was stronger, so we shifted focus to our offices in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
In 2007, an opportunity came up to merge Cezanne Software with a UK business: HRM Software. HRM Software was founded and owned by Nick Bolton. We retained the Cezanne Software name and combined the strength of both organisations into one business.
By 2012, the new Cezanne Software was so successful that a buyer was interested in purchasing it. Sadly, Nick passed away this same year. Alongside Nick’s family, we made the decision to sell Cezanne Software, and to once again retain a graft – a new project that would become what we know of today as Cezanne HR.
How did your working life change when you started Cezanne HR?
The creation of Cezanne HR saw me step back into a much more hands on role. I had a CEO based in Europe managing Cezanne Software. I would be available when important decisions needed to be made, otherwise I had the freedom to step back from work for the first time in my adult life and travel.
With the creation of Cezanne HR and the passing of Nick, I relocated to London and went back into full time work. Alongside other key members of my team who stayed with me from Cezanne Software to Cezanne HR, we put all our energy, know-how and creativity into building our new product, envisioned as a one-stop-shop for HR, and later for payroll as well, truly integrative, based entirely in the Cloud, and rich in functionality.
How did you lead Cezanne HR through the last 12+ months of COVID-19?
I decided to take a cautious approach to managing the business through the pandemic. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 50 years and taking business risks is part of the job and almost second nature, but this didn’t seem like the right time for that. So, we battened down the hatches, kept our costs under control and looked after our customers, our people and job security.
I followed the same management approach that I’ve always had and that is for us all to stick together as a team. I was as transparent as possible in my communications, presenting the plans for different scenarios from worst to best case, so everyone knew where we stood as a business.
We transitioned from on-site work (we’ve always had hybrid working) to full-time homeworking very quickly. This worked really well for the business, with teamwork continuing just as successfully as previously. I feel that this shows our company values in action.
Our values are mutual trust and respect, integrity and transparency, reliability, teamwork, and diversity. I think the mutual trust we have at Cezanne HR was especially important in ensuring homeworking was a success.
We were also fortunate as a business in that we still had demand for our services. The great rapport we have with existing customers and their loyalty helped keep things stable, too.
What’s next for Cezanne HR?
I’ve always envisioned Cezanne HR to be a true disruptor in the market, both in terms of the breadth of our product and how we offer it. It is a hard goal, but we are achieving it step after step every day.
I want Cezanne HR to be the vendor of choice for growing and medium-sized international organisations. This is one of our target markets, and I can see us attracting more international customers as our global capabilities go from strength to strength. Our international outlook is also reflected in our values and the diversity of our team.
Find out about another Cezanne HR business leader by reading Silvia’s story.