Software and the House that Pete Built

Peter Karmanos' Compuware headquarters is a testament to ingenuity and hard work.

DETROIT - As a follower of the technology industry, particularly the developer world, you can't help but feel welcome in the house that Pete built-Peter Karmanos, that is.

I'm talking about Compuware headquarters in downtown Detroit. I went there May 15 for the launch of "Compuware 2.0," the rebranding of the 35-year-old company to focus on new market opportunities. And it wasn't long before I was wishing I worked there.

First off, the building itself is just short of amazing, not only for its internal architecture and intellectual property contained therein, but also for what it means to downtown Detroit. Like so many major urban areas where once-formidable manufacturing industries have seen jobs dry up and move away, Detroit has seen its share of blight-as has Compuware seen its own ups and downs.

However, Compuware headquarters is a gleaming example of the will and determination of the company's co-founder, chairman and CEO, Peter Karmanos. The 15-floor-building's atrium competes with that of any five-star hotel. It boasts a waterfall that is one of the largest indoor water features in North America. The multistory waterfall was designed by Wet Design. Wet Design specializes in the design of water features worldwide and is a leader in the development of innovative design and technology. They also designed the Fountains of Bellagio at the Bellagio Hotels in Las Vegas.

Other businesses in the Compuware building include The Hard Rock Cafe, Borders Books, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, an optical firm and several others.

Karmanos co-founded Compuware in 1973 with Thomas Thewes and the late Allen Cutting with $3,000 each in tax-return money. He said they hoped to build a company that would employ 20 to 25 people who would build some good software tools to help programmers. Today, Compuware has more than 6,500 employees and annual revenues of $1.2 billion.

Giving Back to Detroit

In a deal akin to that seen by sports franchises, Karmanos said Compuware got the land the headquarters building resides on for one dollar. As the company grew, Karmanos said he knew Compuware needed to move from its former suburban headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich. He said building in the heart of the city was actually cheaper than rebuilding somewhere else in the suburbs. So Compuware moved downtown in 2002.

Besides, Karmanos was interested in giving back to his native Detroit and showing folks that cities are not so bad. "I know there are generations of people who have never had an urban experience," he said.

Compuware started out providing software services for mainframe customers and later mainframe software development and quality assurance tools. These products and services were followed by ALM (application lifecycle management) and other tools and services for distributed systems as well.

Meanwhile, in between a discussion of how Compuware's tools empower enterprises to build better, more error-free software, Karmanos gave me a civics lesson on the history of Detroit, the urban experience and societal issues such as housing and white flight. Karmanos also said he has been a mentor to embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who he said he believes has done some really good things for the city but made some errors in judgment. Kilpatrick has been indicted for perjuring himself about a relationship with a former aide.

Another example of Karmanos' interest in his home town is that the company will host a new charter school in its headquarters building. In April, Compuware announced that it would host University Preparatory Academy's Science & Math Middle School while the organization's permanent location at Detroit Science Center is completed. UPSM and its students will occupy the 11th-floor Monroe wing of the Compuware headquarters starting in August. UPSM Middle School students will gain educational, mentoring and job-shadowing opportunities at Compuware. UPSM students will have full use of Compuware headquarters facilities, such as the Marketplace Cafeteria, Wellness Center and more. UPSM is a general admissions public charter school district in Detroit that provides Detroit area children with the mathematics, science, technology skills, and international exposure that will enable them to attend selective universities and colleges, and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, UPSM officials said.

Blue-Collar Ethics

What shows through in even a brief conversation with Karmanos is that he is a leader. He is not a "leader" in name only or one of the type that competes with or tries to one-up his charges. Instead he seeks to empower them.

Raaj Shinde, Compuware's vice president of sales for the Asia Pacific region, who also has worked in the executive ranks at other developer-oriented companies such as Rational, Togethersoft and Borland, said Karmanos' leadership and management style was one of the reasons he came to work at the company.

Karmanos learned his work ethic during his days working at his father's diner. And although Compuware has been referred to as a "blue-collar" software company, which reflects Karmanos' respect for the hardworking folks who built Detroit, he's no slouch on the intellectual side. He's a member of Mensa, the society for people with high IQs. He, along with Compuware senior vice president Paul Czarnik introduced the concept of technology "Eagles" inside the company's developer ranks, for folks who love programming and excel at it.

In addition, Karmanos is a former athlete, avid sports fan and fierce competitor. His office is a testament to that. His corner office features all kinds of sport memorabilia including championship rings from the Detroit Pistons, signed footballs, jerseys and photos galore. Karmanos also is co-owner of three hockey teams-the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League, the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, and the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League.