Twelve acquisitions in six years could mean a recipe for disaster. But in the end, IT at natural products company Hain Celestial got systems blended smoothly.

Joe Thielen knew there was a problem when the phone system at a newly acquired company crashed for a couple of days. Then email went down for a week. Thielen, the director of IT operations at organic food conglomerate Hain Celestial Group Inc., flew to Southern California to check things out.

Thielen found an IT train wreck. He toured the Los Angeles-area offices of Jason Natural Products, which Hain Celestial had bought a year before in 2004. At one site, a storage area had been turned into a ratty data center -- a nest of frazzled wiring. A wire shorted out while Thielen was there.

A Jason Natural Products HR person was in charge of IT, along with a consultant she had hired. "She was very happy for us to take over," Thielen recalls. "They were in a world of hurt. Nothing was documented. No one knew what the passwords were for routers."

Jason Natural Products had been making organic shampoo and lotions since 1959 and had grown into a $20-million business. The acquisition marked Hain Celestial's first foray into personal care products, though not into the challenges of IT post-merger integration. At Jason Natural Products, IT hadn't kept up. "The infrastructure was just terrible," says Hain Celestial CIO Michael Calderon. "It was a mess. They outgrew themselves and didn't keep up from an IT perspective."

Redundancy, for example, was a foreign concept. "If something went down, their backup was to fax or drive things around," says Hain Celestial network security administrator Ben Church. "Jason's been our most complex integration."

This was first published in January 2007

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