October 13, 2006

Blackbaud riding high

Kyle Stock  /  The Post and Courier

Nasdaq bell ringing marks 25th anniversary

The Daniel Island-based software maker's stock shot to a record $25 a share Thursday. And this morning Blackbaud chief executive Marc Chardon is set to ring the bell to open trading on the Nasdaq, marking the company's 25th anniversary and its ascent from a private darling of the Lowcountry high-tech community to a strategic holding for money managers worldwide.

"Our performance has been really good and continues to be good, so it's a nice serendipitous thing for us," Blackbaud spokesman Dennis Maxwell said Wednesday. "It's a good opportunity for the company to get its name in front of the Nasdaq audience, and, of course, it's good for morale."

Chardon will be joined by officials from Blackbaud's first customer, Manhattan's Knightingale-Bamford School. Representatives of two of Blackbaud's bigger, newer accounts - Partners HealthCare System Inc. and the Make-A-Wish Foundation - will also attend.

In the past five years, Blackbaud revenue has surged 85 percent as it posted $14 million in average annual income. It now employs slightly more than 1,000 workers and counts as clients about 15,000 of the world's 3 million or so nonprofit groups.

Since first hitting the market July 26, 2004, its shares have almost tripled in value from $8.54. It follows that the company has become a popular play for Wall Street professionals. About 92 percent of Blackbaud shares are now held by institutional investors and mutual funds. FMR Corp., the company that owns mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, now holds almost 7 percent of "BLKB."

Ringing the opening bell will mark that success with a photo opportunity and a chance to raise the company's profile, for at least a moment, among professional and casual investors. Open trading was originally ruled by a gavel, which gave way to a Chinese gong in 1871 and a bell in 1903. Through most of the 20th century, ringing the bell was largely a floor manager's mundane task. But the event became a daily promotion platform for companies in the mid-1990s. These days, the honor goes to businesses that have had a particularly good run on the market or those celebrating a trading anniversary. Increasingly, celebrities, sports stars and politicians are setting off the daily frenzy of capitalism.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump, for example, rang the Nasdaq's bell when his resort company joined the ticker in 2005. Paul Campbell, vice chairman of First Financial Holdings Inc., sounded the closing bell in March 2005 to mark the Charleston-based bank owner's 20th year on the Nasdaq. Campbell, also a consultant to aluminum giant Alcoa, fondly recalled the warm reception and the few seconds that his picture was flashed up on a big screen in Times Square.

"Nasdaq really appreciates the small companies," Campbell said. "They treated us like heroes." He also noted that the ceremony affords a brief "top of mind recognition" from analysts and investors.

Only a few other South Carolinians have had the honor, including U.S. Rep. Henry Brown. He kicked off a day at the New York Stock Exchange in 1999, when South Carolina started investing in equities. Bill Timmerman, Scana Corp.'s chief executive, belatedly commemorated the utility owner's 50th year of trading on the NYSE by ringing the opening bell in June 1997. The anniversary was actually November 1996, but it took seven months to get on the exchange's schedule.