Employee-led bid brings Pronexus ownership home

Interactive-voice response (IVR) provider Pronexus Inc. on Monday announced it was back in Canadian hands after an employee-led bid beat out rival efforts for control of the company.

Gary Hannah, CEO of the new Pronexus Inc., said employees along with the “odd outside investor” took control Friday night after putting forward an undisclosed amount for the company.

“It’s kind of like the Remington story — I liked the company so much I bought it,” Hannah said. Hannah said the other unnamed bidders were either companies with Pronexus technology embedded in their own solutions or partner companies with complimentary technology. Pronexus has alliances with several providers of voice technology, including Dialogic Corp. and Nuance Communications.

Ottawa-based Pronexus returns to being a private company, ending a five-year stint in the public realm that began when Active Voice Corp. bought 51 per cent of the company in 1996. Last fall, Active Voice took 100 per cent control of Pronexus and in February 2001, Cisco Systems Inc. bought Active Voice.

Cisco spokesperson Larry Yu said Cisco was interested mainly in Active Voice’s Unity Enterprise product, as it fit with Cisco’s enterprise strategy of driving convergence into the network. Cisco put up for sale the remaining 80 per cent of Active Voice, under the name Active Voice Inc. That included Pronexus, whose technology was similar to something Cisco already had in house.

“Since we didn’t want to create overlap, we spun that out,” Yu said.

“We weren’t a key component of the Cisco world,” Hannah said. “It’s been a bit of a bouncing ball the last four years.”

Still, Hannah is bullish on Pronexus’s future as a provider of both an IVR-solutions tool kit and IVR-related business solutions. Hannah said the tool-kit business is growing by 10-to-15 per cent annually, while the solutions business is seeing 30 -to-40 per cent yearly growth.

Hannah said a main driver for the growth are interactive services such as those from hydro utilities that allow customers to automatically get their metre readings by phone and even enable the utility to automatically dial the user when payments are overdue.

“What we’re seeing is the spread of technology has hit a whole new market,” Hannah said. “Now that you can talk to a computer system, or have it talk to you . . . It’s exploding.”

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