Diane Ferguson has been swept up in several of the most noteworthy tech deals of the last quarter century. She was at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1998 when Compaq bought the company for $9.6 billion. Four years later, HP spent $25 billion to acquire Compaq. In 2010, Ferguson moved to VCE, a subsidiary of EMC, which merged with Dell for $67 billion, and she was part of Red Hat when it went to IBM for $34 billion in 2019. These events broadened Ferguson’s skills, taught her how to thrive in various companies at different stages, and prepared her to join Precisely as vice president and deputy general counsel in January of 2021.
Precisely is a leader in data integrity, providing software, data enrichment products, and strategic services to ninety-nine of the Fortune 100 companies. As a veteran attorney with decades of experience covering intellectual property in tech, Ferguson is well-positioned to handle related legal issues and guide the business as a trusted advisor. But she has one other thing that makes her uniquely suited for the work—a degree in electrical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Ferguson was using her technical training at DEC when she discovered a program that sent engineers to law school so they could become patent attorneys. “I hadn’t considered being a lawyer because I knew I didn’t want to be a litigator, but I realized patent law would be a great intersection of legal work and engineering,” says Ferguson, who was one of a few candidates selected for the competitive program.
Suddenly, the young engineer was on a new path. She worked during the day, attended class at night, took the patent bar exam, and then passed the bar. DEC paired Ferguson with mentors who taught her to draft patent applications and negotiate transactional deals. Whenever the company prepared to spin out and sell business units, the former engineers were selected to the deal teams.
With a solid foundation in place, Ferguson left DEC for other opportunities and spent many years building her career at companies like Teradyne, Compaq, HP, VCE, Dell, and Red Hat. Along the way, she supported various business units, engineering, and product teams, developed product lifecycle processes on cross-functional teams, assisted on major services deals, led commercial legal teams, uncovered new ways to generate revenue through intellectual property (IP), built patent portfolios from scratch, oversaw legal department business continuity planning, and mastered the legal nuances of complex business models.
At Precisely, Ferguson has the opportunity to leverage the full range of her background, training, skills, and experience in a position created just for her. She’s part IP counsel, part product counsel, part procurement counsel, and part of the M&A team, working with developers and inventors to understand the innovations that go into the company’s solutions so she can negotiate agreements and steer overall strategy in response.
After being part of four blockbuster deals, Ferguson can easily spot the telltale signs of a looming acquisition. She knew something was in the works at Precisely when, just days after her arrival, she received a suspicious email summoning her to a weekend meeting. She spent the next six weeks working on a deal to sell the company that had just hired her.
Precisely remained active after the announcement, and Ferguson led IP, product, and sourcing due diligence work as her colleagues targeted and bought five other businesses in her first year to complement their core offerings. The former electrical engineer had yet another chance to use her academic training to understand how legacy and acquired software components and platforms could be positioned to complement each other.
During integration, Ferguson not only works to ensure everyone migrates to using the same documents and processes, but also solicits input from all parties. “I know what it’s like to be an acquired employee, and I don’t want anyone to feel undervalued or ignored,” she says. “Companies get the most value out of an acquisition when they actually encourage new thinking by considering the experience of the newly acquired employees instead of assuming the old way of doing things is always the best way.”
Going forward, Precisely will continue to add value for customers through ongoing organic and inorganic growth. Ferguson, meanwhile, is busy preparing herself for something new—a seat on a corporate board. She has served on a nonprofit board as governance chair, but is turning her attention to for-profit companies.
Currently, Ferguson is networking with other women executives and learning from social impact groups like Him for Her, a venture aimed at connecting talented women to board service. Now Ferguson is interviewing other board members, preparing her board resume, and looking for a seat knowing that when she finds a match, she’ll have one more way to use the expertise she’s spent a lifetime acquiring.