OpenAir CEO Morris Panner Profiled in New York Times
New York Times
From Prosecutor to C.E.O.

As told to Eve Tahmincioglu.
Published January 8, 2006

WHEN I was a prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, my very first trial involved a man accused of bringing a knife into a veterans' hospital. This guy decided to represent him-self. He was a veteran and he was mad about something. Even though I was prosecuting him, I tried to be straight with the guy. I gave him all the statutes and underlined parts that applied to him and gave him a sense of what the case against him was. I told him, "Here's what I have to show, so you have to show this and that."

When we went to trial the police officer had forgotten the knife, so there was no physical evi-dence. But this guy took the stand and ended up incriminating himself. It was a ridiculous trial. In his testimony he said: "This is unfair. They never could have seen the knife because I had it in my pocket." The judge fined him and told him never to go back to the veterans' hospital.

A few weeks later I saw him at the courthouse. He was there to pay the fine. He saw me and came up to me. I was hoping he wouldn't do something violent. He said, "Hindsight is 20/20." I said, "What do you mean?" He said: "You didn't have the knife. If I didn't testify against my-self I would never be convicted. But you know that's tough. I'm glad it didn't work out. You were very fair to me in the trial, and it seems like you've got a big future in front of you. If you lost to me, your career would have been over."

The stakes were not that high at the trial, but the experience made me realize that I was going to have a lot of tough dealings through my life. I wanted to play it straight and be fair. When I got the prosecutor's job in New York they told me we are here to do justice, not to win. I took that to heart.

When, later, I was a federal prosecutor handling organized crime in New York City, I came to realize that Colombia was the center of a lot of what was going on. I found out that the Justice Department had somebody in Colombia who was a legal adviser and I thought, I'd love to get that job. I met the man who had the post, and he ended up leaving. So I applied for the job. I was so excited when I got the job. But no one else I knew was.

I said, "I'm going to Colombia," and people would respond: "How great. You're going to be a professor at Columbia." They just couldn't imagine I was going there. I remember the U.S. attorney at the time looking at me like I was crazy. People thought my career path would be better served by going to the white-collar unit, then to Wall Street. To me, it was like someone offered me an opportunity to go to Palm Beach and people were asking, "Wouldn't you rather go to Far Rockaway?"

When I got to Colombia I had a bodyguard and an armored car. At the time, the Colombians and U.S. had a terrible relationship. We were developing a joint strike force for things like drug trafficking, and people saw it as imperialistic. Nobody would talk to me at the beginning, but then relatively quickly, we were able to work together pretty well. The one scary thing, in Colombia, they always have ways of getting to you. In my case, it wasn't that effective to just blow me up. While it would have been a bummer for me, the U.S. government would have just replaced me. The drug lords ended up leaving messages for me, trying to implicate me in drug trafficking, prostitution, in an effort to undermine me. It didn't work.

I left government after an old Harvard Law School friend of mine, Bill O'Farrell, called me at the height of the dot-com boom. He started OpenAir, a software company, and I came on board just before the dot-com collapse. I'm good at managing in the face of adversity, keeping a calm head. As things started to fall apart, I rose in the organization and became C.E.O. It wasn't an enviable thing. It looked like we were going bankrupt. But things started to turn around. At the end of 2003, we had our first profitable month, and have been profitable ever since.

About OpenAir
OpenAir is the Web-native professional services automation solution that helps independent software vendors, marketing services companies, consulting firms, and internal corporate service organizations increase top-line growth, improve operations and enhance financial controls. OpenAir customers increase profits by capturing additional billable hours, increasing employee utilization, streamlining project management, accelerating revenue, enhancing collaboration, improving revenue recognition and project accounting, and sharing knowledge and best practices throughout the organization. OpenAir has helped leading services organizations across six continents increase profits through the subscription-based OpenAir® Complete solution.

OpenAir ranked Number 161 on the 2005 Deloitte Technology Fast 500, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in North America. In addition to ranking on Deloitte's Technology Fast 500, OpenAir ranked 15th on the New England Technology Fast 50, which is a ranking of the 50 fastest growing technology firms in New England.

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