February 6, 2012

Benefitfocus Spreading its Wings

Brendan Kearney  /  Post & Courier

Blackbaud sent technology tongues wagging last month when it announced a planned $275 million acquisition of former rival Convio, but Benefitfocus, the next biggest software company in Charleston, has been quietly making major moves of its own.

Last month, the Daniel Island-based firm hired Milt Alpern as its new chief financial officer. Before moving to South Carolina, the tech finance veteran held the same position at ITA Software**,** which was acquired byGooglelast year. Alpern has held similar leadership positions at several other companies over his 35-year career, according to Benefitfocus, and has overseen more than $1 billion in mergers and acquisitions.

Benefitfocus is also in the midst of an employee and office growth spurt. The company, which was founded in 2000 and specializes in employee health-care benefits management, has about 700 employees now and plans to add at least another 150 this year, according to co-founder and CEO Shawn Jenkins.

To that end, Benefitfocus is in the process of opening a San Francsico office and plans, within the next two to three years, to build a new office in Greenville between twice and three times the capacity of its existing Upstate facility, Jenkins said recently.

The Bay Area office is already staffed and should officially open later this year. The current Greenville office houses 90 employees and could hold another 40 to 50 people. The replacement building would house between 300 and 400 engineers, according to Jenkins.

"We're now in our second decade of pretty significant, massive growth and we're just scratching the surface," Jenkins said.

Blackbaud, which develops software for nonprofits, was founded in New York in 1981, moved to Charleston in 1989 and conducted its initial public offering in 2004. It now has some 2,200 employees.

"They're in a different cycle than we are," Jenkins said. "They've already gone public. They're in acquisition mode."

But considering the arrival of Alpern, Jenkins' plans for more fast-paced growth and the recovering economy, the question of when Benefitfocus will offer itself up to the public seems less a matter of if than how soon.