CEO leads tech company HarQen with vision: Ane Ohm

Ane Ohm is a statistical anomaly, both by state and national standards.

The chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based digital voice technology company HarQen Inc., she is one of few women to head an area technology company, mirroring national trends.

Founded in 2007, HarQen’s digital voice and interviewing platform caters mainly to staffing companies, including clients like ManpowerGroup. Ohm leads the small Brewer’s Hill tech outfit with an eye on the bigger picture, making it her mission as a leader to look at both the bottom line and the finish line.

“My job, as I see it, is to be looking out,” she explained.

The questions she asks: Where are we headed? Are we on track? How do we push forward?

Ohm brings financial acumen from her time as a public accountant, and draws on leadership lessons learned from stints at Pinstripe Inc., now Cielo, and Strong Financial Corp., since acquired by Wells Fargo & Co.

There, she faced one of her biggest and most formative leadership challenges — standing in front of more than 200 staff and telling them their division was going to be outsourced in the acquisition.

More than that, Ohm and her management team had to devise a way to keep those staffers around for the next nine months, even after having their jobs eliminated.

Ohm’s antidote was to create a work environment that made people want to stay, offering job and interview-training, and bringing in companies to scout out talent under embargo.

Even during that rough period, she said, “We really became tight.”

After her division at Strong dispersed, Ohm worked at Pinstripe, then went on to lead Green Bay paper and electronic documents-processing company LaserNet Inc.

After selling that company in 2010, Ohm sent a press release announcing the sale to former contact Kelly Fitzsimmons, who had then only recently launched HarQen’s digital voice platform.

“And she was like, ‘OK. Now you have to come work for me,’” Ohm recalled.

Fitzsimmons said she reached out just one day later, remembering Ohm from a few years back when she and her husband and co-founder Jeff Fitzsimmons worked with her to test an early version of a HarQen recruiting tool.

“When she left, Jeff turned to me and said, ‘We must hire her,’” Fitzsimmons recalled.

‘NATURAL BORN LEADER’

About a month after Fitzsimmons reached out, Ohm was working at HarQen.

In 2012 Fitzsimmons stepped down to focus on developing HarQen’s HyperVoice tool, probably best categorized as “smart voice” technology. Ohm then transitioned into the open role.

“Ane is a natural born leader. Just the way she carries herself and speaks contains a level of competency and authority,” Fitzsimmons said. “Ane knows that leadership is ultimately about creating shared understanding. A CEO who cannot communicate a message so that it is received will fail in any organization of scale. Where most of us are too impatient to do the hard work of ensuring that the message has indeed been communicated, Ane will stick it out.”

The company is nearing revenue-positive, has 10 employees and expects to launch Fitzsimmons’ HyperVoice tools in the near future, according to Ohm.

In some ways, it’s benefited HarQen to have women leaders; many of its investors have been firms that target women-led companies, Ohm said. Ohm said it’s never been “weird” to be in the minority.

If anything, “sad” might be the better word, according to Fitzsimmons. When Fitzsimmons launched and successfully exited her first tech venture in the mid-1990s, she was lauded as one of Milwaukee’s only female tech CEOs.

Today, that distinction still applies to her successor.

Ane Ohm

  • Title: Chief executive officer
  • Age: 44
  • Education: University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Family: Married, three children (ages 9, 13, 16)
  • Resides: Hartford
  • Recent reads: “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” by Malala Yousafzai
  • Role models: Chip and Dan Heath (brothers, authors of “Made to Stick”) and Seth Godin (author and entrepreneur), because they are “people with clarity of thought” who keep results in mind, Ohm said.
  • Hardest decision: “Telling more than 200 people that they were losing their jobs at Strong (Financial Group).”
  • Hobby: Gardening
  • Top places to visit: Nashville, Tenn. (“though that was for a conference, not just for fun”)