Change Management

Software for Life - The Pronto Story

Pronto Software Managing Director Chad Gates tells the Pronto Story

The seeds for what would become Pronto were planted in 1976 when Dave Nolan formed Prometheus while consulting to an Australian computer hardware manufacturer called CMAD.

By 1983, CMAD was in financial difficulty and its directors decided to sell the ‘non-core’ software division. Dave Nolan purchased the rights to the application and system software and acquired six CMAD software developers as part of the deal.

The software Prometheus acquired was written in an old programming language called COBOL and would only operate on CMAD hardware. The company wanted independence from both hardware and software providers, so set about developing a fourth-generation programming language which was used to rewrite the entire code base into a product called Pronto.

CMAD went out of business but many of their customers continued using Pronto software, and some are still valued Pronto customers today, more than 30 years later.

Over time, customers began using ‘Pronto‘ as the company name and in 2001 the name was officially changed.

By the late 1990’s, Dave Nolan was looking to sell the business and retire. There was a major falling out between directors when Dave accepted what the others considered a very low offer from Sausage Software. However, the deal was accepted and Sausage took ownership in July 1999.

Sausage was an over-hyped ‘dot-com’ business which used its pumped-up valuation to buy ‘real’ companies like Pronto and SMS Management. When the dot-com bubble burst in the year 2000, SMS Management did a reverse takeover of Sausage and set about cleaning the balance sheet. Pronto did not fit SMS's business strategy and was put up for sale by tender.

This was a critical time; there was a risk that Pronto would be subsumed by a competitor or mismanaged to extinction. New CEO David Jackman saw an opportunity for a management buyout, and with a cohort of Pronto staff members and some reseller staff, successfully acquired the company.

There were mixed feelings for the new owners - exhilaration at being in control of their destiny again, and anxiety and concern about the next salary bill and over extended personal finances. Many Pronto staff investors had been advised by their accountants against investing, but put trust in the management team. Their investment has been repaid many times over.

Today Pronto serves over 1600 customers across Asia Pacific with 380 staff. The company has grown at an average rate of 15% per annum. It is a company in control of its destiny and confidently navigating the cycles of the software industry in the best interests of its customers and staff. In 2016, David Jackman retired and Chad Gates took over as CEO.



Pronto Software

Source: Mike Adams and Stefan Crisp discussions with early Pronto staffers


Story Type: Company Creation

Labels: Control; Change Management; Persistence


For Story Students:

The Setting: Melbourne from 1976

The Complications: A failing hardware company, changing technology, company sale and a management buyout

The Turning Point: The management buyout in 2002

The Resolution: A stable successful company

The Point of the Story: Pronto has the experience and resources to support its customers through the cycles of the software industry

How to use this Story: Pronto people use flavours of this story to connect with their customers. Its a nice example of a company creation story.

The Zambia Malaria Outbreak Story

In the mid 1990s, Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the World Bank after a long and distinguished career in the banking industry. Instead of the job he wanted, he was given what he considered a 'poisoned chalice' -  a role to implement knowledge management at the World Bank because the organisation operated all over the world but seemed to be repeatedly making the same mistakes.

It was the early days of PowerPoint and Stephen made what he thought was a compelling presentation full of rational argument and moving slides about why knowledge management was important. He took his presentation on a global tour but was unable to persuade any country to take on in his knowledge management initiative.

One day, back at the World Bank HQ in New York, Stephen was having lunch in the staff cafeteria when he overheard a story being told by some field workers:

A health worker who was part of a project to build a school in a tiny town in Zambia went to the Web site of the Centre For Disease Control and got an answer to a question about the treatment of malaria. This was in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, and it was in a tiny place six hundred kilometres from the capitol city. 

Stephen included this story in his presentation and there was an instant change in his audience response. The Zambia story connected with his audience and his quest to implement knowledge management finally started to gain traction.

Stephen Denning calls the Zambia story a "springboard" story because it was told and retold countless times and was the catalyst for organisational change



: World Bank


: Stephen Denning "The Springboard" How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations, 2001



Story Type

: Business Purpose; Insight


: Knowledge Management; Change Managment


For Story Students

The Setting

: Mid 1990s Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the world bank

The Complications

: Stephen was given the task of implementing knowledge management and found it very hard going

The Turning Point

: Stephen overheard a story about a malaria outbreak in Zambia and decided to use that story in his presentations

The Resolution

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

The Point of the Story

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

How to use this story

: This is a classic change management story. Use it whenever you need to talk about implementing change


HP - We trust our people

Hewlett Packard is a 'storied' company and famous for its 'trusting' corporate culture. Here is one of the stories that created that culture.

Every company veteran knows the legend of how one of the company founders, Bill Hewlett, came in one weekend to work and found the equipment storeroom locked and how he broke it open with a fire axe and left a note insisting that it not be locked again because HP trusts its people**.

A story like this that shows how a leader behaves is worth far more than any corporate mission or values statements. Employees are influenced mostly by what leaders do not what they say or write.


Company: HP


Story Type: Values


For Story Students

The Setting: Dave Packard working on a project on the weekend canot access the required tools because the tools are locked up

The Complications: The equipment stireroom was locked and weekend staff could not work

The Turning Point: Bill Hewlett broke into the storeroom with an axe

The Resolution: The weekend workers could work but more importantly Hewlett left a lasting legacy about how HP people should treay each other.

The Point of the Story: The weekend workers could work but more importantly Hewlett left a lasting legacy about how HP people should treat each other.

How to use this story: When discussing corporate vales and trust