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New CEO at CasePick Systems, company developing droids for the warehouse, comes from Netezza

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 7, 2011 10:44 AM

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Former Netezza chief executive Jim Baum is making a career leap, going from data warehousing to grocery warehousing.

Baum was running Netezza last September, when IBM purchased the company for $1.7 billion; Netezza made high-performance data warehousing appliances. Baum stuck around at Big Blue for exactly one year. Now, he's shifting from "big data" into the robotics sector, joining CasePick Systems in Wilmington as CEO. (CasePick founder John Lert also confirms that he left the company in January, "to move on to something even more interesting," he writes via e-mail.)

In almost five years of existence, CasePick has remained so quiet that it hasn't issued a single press release, or (as far as I know) publicly demonstrated the robots they're building; this blog post I wrote last December is the most detailed information out there about the company. CasePick seems to be designing robotic carts — they call them T3Vs, or "Track-guided Transfer and Transport Vehicles" — that can move through a warehouse, picking up and dropping off cases (usually cardboard boxes) full of merchandise, using a robotic arm. CasePick was acquired in 2009 by one of its early backers, NH-based C&S Wholesale Grocers.

As for the company's low-profile, Baum says, "I'm gonna change all that," alluding to a "meaningful launch" of the company in early 2012.

Baum says the company is exploring "lots of opportunities in the grocery industry and outside it. The strategy is not to keep the technology captive" within C&S, which is one of the country's largest grocery wholesalers.

The company has around 100 employees, Baum says, "and we'll go well beyond that in the next year."

Talking about his switch to robotics after a career of selling hardware and software to big companies, Baum says, "The whole robotics space is fascinating to me. Selling software is very much driven by volume, but robotics involves much bigger purchase prices, and a lot of effort to get the technology to work right in each customer deployment."

Baum says he isn't focused on raising additional capital for CasePick right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if the company brought in some new investors down the road; several Boston-area VCs have been following Baum's move from Netezza to CasePick closely.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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