Crain's Cleveland Business

Crain’s Cleveland Business Highlights A.J. Hyland, CEO of Portfolio Company Hyland Software Inc.

Chuck Soder

A.J. Hyland
CEO, Hyland Software Inc.

Considering all A.J. Hyland has accomplished, you wouldn’t guess the guy in charge of a company widely considered the poster child of Northeast Ohio’s information technology industry was just 29 years old when he became CEO.

Although still two years shy of 40, the head man at Hyland Software Inc. already has spent nearly a decade guiding the producer of document management software through year after year of growth.

How much growth? Well, the company had 150 employees when co-founder Packy Hyland Jr. turned the reins over to his younger brother in 2001. Since then the company rarely has stopped hiring. Hyland employs 753 in Northeast Ohio, and more than 150 at seven other offices across the United States and overseas.

That explosive growth continues today. Private equity firm Thoma Bravo LLC bought a majority stake in the company for $265 million in mid-2007, and since then Hyland Software has made a few acquisitions and intends to make more in an effort to become a force in the document management software market.

Mr. Hyland was just 35 when Hyland Software announced the sale. The private equity firm never replaces management teams when it makes investments, so the simple fact that it bought the company speaks well of Mr. Hyland, said Seth Boro, Thoma Bravo partner.

“We just saw someone who was incredibly passionate. A great leader,” Mr. Boro said.

Mr. Hyland is a quick learner, said chief operating officer Bill Priemer, who has known him since childhood. His accomplishments are made all the more impressive because he is still so young, Mr. Priemer said.

“It’s not like he was an executive at some other firm before he did this,” he said.

It’s a family affair

Mr. Hyland knows, however, that he’s not the only Hyland deserving credit. Packy Hyland Jr. started the company back in 1991, creating the foundation upon which the younger Hyland built.

A.J. Hyland described his oldest brother as a great salesman who knows how to gain people’s trust – one reason why the elder Hyland was able to recruit his younger brother to join Hyland Software’s quality assurance team after he graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in business administration.

Mr. Hyland has another older brother, Chris, who is the company’s chief financial officer and a “steady hand” who helps him guide the company to this day.

Their father, Packy Hyland Sr., who served as company president through much of the 1990s, raised enough money from friends, family and associates to help Packy Jr. get the company off the ground – and keep it going. He passed away about a year ago.

“That man kept this company afloat by just finding ways to make payroll,” A.J. Hyland said of his father. “He just made it happen.”

The opportunity to work with his family over the years has been a blessing, he said, adding that his sister, Kate, and her husband, DeWayne Ashcraft, have worked at the company as well. The Hyland family spent a lot of time moving when Mr. Hyland was young, which made them closer.

“When you move around and change schools a lot, you lean on your siblings probably more,” he said.

No shame in trying

Mr. Premier, who was friends with the Hyland boys while growing up in University Heights, described Packy Jr. as the one always coming up with crazy ideas and Chris as the voice of reason who played along but wouldn’t get in trouble. A.J. was younger, but he was a “tough, competitive little kid,” Mr. Priemer said.

Mr. Hyland carried that competitiveness with him as he grew older, eventually joining the St. Ignatius High School basketball team, but it wasn’t enough to get him much playing time.

“I contributed well in practice,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Hyland had wanted to eventually become a sports broadcaster – “I probably was just going to drive to Bristol (home of ESPN’s studios) and camp out until I got a job” – before he was wooed by his older brother’s overtures. Though he didn’t pursue his original dream, it seems this career path has turned out more than OK for him.

Not only does running Hyland Software play right into his competitive nature, but Mr. Hyland gets to lead a company that has created a heap of new jobs and a lot of hope for Northeast Ohio’s IT community. It’s a banner he doesn’t mind carrying.

“I think it matters to the region to have a success story,” he said.

That’s not to say people who want to run their own shows should fear failure. Mr. Hyland said the region needs to do more to encourage entrepreneurs and to understand that they won’t always be successful the first time they start a business.

“I think we should be more excited that somebody tried and we should build them up to try again,” he said.

Now you’re cookin’

Mr. Premier described Mr. Hyland as an enthusiastic, optimistic leader who knows the value of his employees. It’s typical for him to know a given employee’s name, his or her background and what projects he or she is working on, Mr. Premier said.

Mr. Hyland also has a good sense of humor, as evidenced by the fact that he did standup comedy in college and his penchant for quoting movies.

“I think he can probably recite the entirety of “Spinal Tap’ from start to finish,” Mr. Priemer said, citing the 1984 movie about a fake rock band.

He’s a community-minded guy as well, allowing Hyland Software employees to do volunteer work on company time.

Mr. Hyland himself is involved in the community, too. He serves on the board of the United Way of Greater Cleveland and he is a member of St. Angela Merici parish in Fairview Park, where he also is an assistant coach for his daughter’s basketball team.

Jim Cookinham, founder of the Northeast Ohio Software Association, described Mr. Hyland as an honest, likeable guy who has performed “way beyond his years” in running Hyland Software. Mr. Cookinham also lauded Mr. Hyland’s practice of taking time out for his family and encouraging employees to do the same.

“He wants people to have a work-family balance,” Mr. Cookinham said.

Mr. Hyland said he spends most of his free time hanging out with his wife, Tricia, and their kids, ages 2, 6, 8 and 10. He still plays a bit of basketball, he said back in February, just after he injured his left leg while going up to block a shot at a local YMCA.

Fortunately, he has other, less physical hobbies, like spending time in the kitchen. He particularly enjoys making – and eating – Seven Layer Bars, which are made with chocolate and butterscotch.

“I like to bake. I really do,” Mr. Hyland said with a smile.