HUDSON — Since the days of DOS, husband and wife team Richard and Billie Henning have been working to provide software solutions for area companies.
Henning Software Inc. was officially established in 1990 when computers still ran on MS-DOS systems and computer automation of business functions was still new.
Although this year marks the company’s 30th anniversary, Richard said the seeds were planted years before. Billie, now the vice president of Henning Software, was working for a small screw machine shop owned by her parents in Hudson.
Richard said much of the accounting and administrative work was still done with paper and pencil at the company, which was then typical.
"I started to help them, saying, ‘Hey we could automate a lot of this on a PC,’" he said. "As I got more and more into the details of that, I started thinking, ‘Well, there’s got to be something on the market we could just buy.’"
But there wasn’t. Richard said the demos of enterprise resource planning software he saw in the late ’80s was "sort of not great."
"Our very first customer is in Oberlin, and they’re still our customer," said Billie, who took on sales and marketing early on prior to the company incorporating.
Richard said the couple were cautious before going all-in on the software venture. Both had full-time jobs early on and the early days were tight for them.
"We were waiting until we had enough sales that I could quit my job," he said, adding the couple went down to one car when Richard left his job.
In those early days, Henning Software was operated out of the Henning’s basement.
"Our first employee was a babysitter," said Billie. "She answered the phones and watched the kids."
They said at one point, there were probably about 10 employees working in their basement before they moved the business to the Omni Building on Boston Mills Road in Hudson.
In those early days, Richard and Billie operated the business in a self-contradictory business environment.
"That was before there were any standards for PCs," said Richard. "It was the early days when you could do anything and make money because there was no software available at that time."
However, lots of companies also weren’t invested in technology and didn’t always understand the potential of it to streamline operations, which made Billie’s job challenging.
"I had to talk them into buying a computer first," she recounted. "We were right there at the right time."
However, Richard said a new computer could cost $5,000 to $6,000, so it wasn’t always easy to convince company presidents and owners to take the plunge.
Henning Software experienced a period of extremely rapid growth between 1995 and 2005, said Richard.
"We used to get literally thousands of leads all the time because everybody was looking for something," he said.
However, competition is now stiff in the ERP software market. Billie said there are always potential new clients going through buyouts and other transition periods who are interested in new software.
Richard said change in the IT field fuels changes in software needs, as well.
"Development tools are always evolving," he said. "Nothing seems to last. What was popular and in demand 20 years ago now is obsolete from a development tools perspective."
While Henning Software hosts annual client conferences where new features and development are discussed, Richard said the core product isn’t updated frequently.
"You don’t rewrite one of these systems with millions of lines of code too often," he said. However, Henning Software is in the midst of its fourth major revision to its core product right now to keep pace with new development tools.
In the midst of Henning Software’s boom years in the mid-‘90s, Billie said she became involved with the Hudson Chamber of Commerce and, in 1997 with the chamber’s help, established the city’s Toastmaster Club.
"It’s an international speaking club," she said. "Basically, you just get up and you can talk about anything you want; you start out talking about yourself and just keep progressing."
For newer members, it’s a way to improve and become comfortable with public speaking, a skill Billie said wasn’t always easy for her.
"Even after all these years, I still find it helpful," she said. "I’m always in front of people at trade shows and conferences."
She said she can tell when a member has taken time off from the club by the quality of their speech.
After that introductory speech, topics can become quite varied, she said.
"As it gets more advanced, there are speeches you have to give," she said. Some of those include impromptu speeches on topics given at the meeting to role playing speeches.
Most speeches are about topics familiar to the speakers, including hobbies, vacations, work and other life events.
During each meeting, there’s a toastmaster, who acts as an emcee, a general evaluator who gives feedback on speeches and a counter and grammarian, who keeps track of usage and grammar faux pas and "uhs" during speeches.
The meetings take place at Henning Sofware’s offices on First Street at Hudson’s First and Main commercial development.
Since she’s been involved with Toastmasters more than 20 years, Billie said her role has evolved from that of a new member learning to improve her speaking to a coach and advisor to others.
"A lot of people use Toastmasters to practice for their real job," she said.
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, firstname.lastname@example.org or @bobgaetjens_rpc.