Soiree at the Wilma: ATG celebrates deal with Cognizant, projected job growth

ATG employees, who now work for Cognizant, celebrate the acquisition on Tuesday night at the Wilma, along with the opportunities it spells for the Missoula office, which could see its workforce grow from around 150 to 500 in the coming years. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Employees of Advanced Technology Group welcomed Cognizant, their new corporate owner, to Missoula on Tuesday to celebrate the future, one that could see the local workforce swell to four figures and expand the company’s partnership with the University of Montana.

Cognizant, a global consulting firm, announced last month that it had purchased ATG. The deal closed on Monday and was punctuated by Tuesday’s soiree at the Wilma in downtown Missoula.

“We did a lot of good, quality work together and believe this is the right thing to do for both companies,” said Ronan O’Flaherty, head of strategy for enterprise application services at Cognizant. “Now the fun starts. This is the starting point of something we think will be really great.”

Cognizant ranks 9th on Forbes’ list of fastest-growing technology companies and 196th on the Fortune 500. The firm has retained ATG’s brand, listing it only as a Cognizant company.

With the acquisition complete, corporate leaders are already evaluating the future, one that could see ATG’s workforce in Missoula expand far beyond its 130 employees.

“We feel like, to a degree, whatever the capacity is that Missoula can handle, we’re going to get enough work and continue to build that out,” O’Flaherty said. “We’re really happy with what they’ve created here, the general work ethic and quality of product coming out.”

O’Flaherty said it will take a few months to fully blend the two companies.

“ATG was already planning on doing some investment things, and that continues,” O’Flaherty said. “What we’d do is just accelerate that. I think you’ll see a significantly bigger impact on jobs here over the next nine months than even what ATG was planning on doing. We’re talking three or four times over what was originally planned.”

Tom Stergios, vice president of strategy and corporate development for ATG in Missoula, right, chats with University of Montana business professor David Firth, second from Right, and Ronan O’Flaherty, head of strategy for enterprise application services at Cognizant. Pictured at left is Hari Raja, vice president of Salesforce practice with Cognizant. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Cognizant has stated its intention to add 25,000 employees in the U.S. over the next five years, including Missoula. The firm is currently adding 500 jobs in Mesa, Arizona, and 1,100 jobs in Texas. It currently employs roughly 260,000 people worldwide.

Tom Stergios, vice president of strategy and corporate development for ATG, said growth at the local office will be closely tied to the University of Montana and Missoula College. UM President Seth Bodnar attended Tuesday’s event.

“We’re in substantive conversations about how many that can be – how many can UM produce, how many can be run through MC, and how many resources are marketable and employable in the tech industry,” Stergios said.

“We’ve proven we can take 130 folks, many who have never seen technology, and make them leaders in the global tech ecosystem. We’re going to take that same blueprint that grew to 130 and we hope to increase to four digits in the next couple of years.”

While most acquisitions create angst and uncertainty within the workforce, Stergios said the deal creates new opportunities for ATG, along with Missoula and UM. He said the company is sold on Missoula and the university, and the potential both present to the global firm.

“They see value in Missoula and UM, and they’re going to be a great partner,” Stergios said. “We’re going to have probably 90 days of discovery, learning more and going through plans. We’ll probably know more in a couple of months.”

Cognizant’s purchase of ATG and its plans to grow the local workforce marks the second major tech announcement in Missoula this month. In early October, ClassPass announced its intent to occupy the fifth floor of the First Interstate Bank building downtown and grow its workforce to 175 employees.

David Firth, an Oxford graduate who teaches information systems and consulting at the University of Montana’s School of Business, has watched Missoula’s tech scene grow over the past several years.

Dubbed the “godfather of ATG,” he provided the firm two students eight years ago. At the time, they represented the company’s first local employees outside Stergios himself.

An estimated 100 UM students have since joined the company, and Firth expects that partnership to grow as Cognizant makes local investments.

“Our very best students used to have to leave the state of Montana,” Firth said. “ATG now has given our very best students the opportunity to stay in Montana and do globally relevant work. Just yesterday, I had several students come by, and each one had more than one amazing career opportunity. That’s a wonderful place for our students to be.”

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