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Research and data specialist The 451 Group buys Boston's Yankee Group

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 3, 2013 08:00 AM

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The Yankee Group is one of those companies that has been bought quite a few times since it was first sold. And the pioneering purveyor of tech prognostications is getting a new owner today, as it becomes part of The 451 Group, based in New York, parent of 451 Research and the Uptime Institute.

Yankee was first sold by founder Howard Anderson in 1996 ($34 million, to Primark). Then it turned over again in 2000 ($72.5 million, to Reuters), in 2004 (undisclosed, to the Cambridge private equity shop Monitor Clipper Partners), and finally one more time the following year (undisclosed, to the Boston private equity firm Alta Communications.) You almost needed an analyst firm to figure out what was going on with the storied Boston analyst firm, which got its start in 1970. That was back when the telecom industry basically began and ended with Ma Bell and her equipment suppliers.

Yankee's new owner says it plans to keep the brand and the Boston office intact — despite the fact that 451 Research already operates a small Boston office of its own just a few blocks away. As it has for the past few years, Yankee will continue to focus on the impact that mobile technologies are having on consumers and businesses.

For some reason, neither Yankee CEO Terry Waters or 451 Group CEO Martin McCarthy, right, wanted to tell me how many people work for Yankee today. LinkedIn shows the number at about 90, but one former employee tells me the actual number of full-timers is closer to 30 worldwide. At one point, Anderson recalls, the firm had more than 200 employees.

But eight years of private equity ownership certainly, uh, slimmed the place down. Various blogs reported on layoffs in 2008, 2009, and 2011.

"We had to right-size the business when I came in," says Waters, who arrived in 2010. He sold off a group that organized trade shows and conferences. Some of the firm's forecasting now comes from analysts who aren't full-timers, but rather "independent consultants affiliated with Yankee," Waters says. And Yankee's data modeling is now done by a partnership based in Bogota, Colombia, working under a Yankee executive in Boston.

McCarthy wouldn't divulge any of the financial details of this latest acquisition, including price. Waters will stay on as CEO.

"Mobility is just becoming more prominent and strategic, not just in our lives as consumers, but as enterprise executives," McCarthy says. Yankee will continue to focus on that theme, operating independently within 451 Group. McCarthy claims that Yankee now has more analysts focusing on mobile than any other analyst firm.

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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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