Michael W. Ferro, Jr. (born July 24, 1966) is an American inventor, investor and philanthropist. He is best known for founding the Internet software company Click Commerce. He is also the founder and CEO of Merrick Ventures LLC, a Chicago-based private equity firm.
An inventor of a number of proprietary products and processes, Ferro holds multiple patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Most recently, Ferro was issued a patent for his innovations in medical imaging for MERGE healthcare, and several of Ferro’s developments are currently patent pending.
Ferro is active in the Midwest’s budding tech scene, where he focuses on mentoring young entrepreneurs. Ferro was named to the "100 Most Powerful Chicagoans" list and is a perennial honoree on the "Who’s Who" list by Crain’s Chicago Business.
From 2008-2015, Ferro served as the chairman of NASDAQ company Merge Healthcare, turning the organization into a billion-dollar enterprise, which was acquired by IBM in October. From 2011 until early 2016, Ferro served as the Chairman of Wrapports LLC, which owns media properties like the Sun-Times Network, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Reader, Chicago.com, Aggrego, Thecube.com and Higi LLC.
On Thursday, February 4, 2016, it was announced that Ferro became the largest shareholder and non-executive chairman of Tribune Publishing after driving home a $44-million deal via his investment firm Merrick Media. As of June 20, the company has been rebranded as Tronc (standing for Tribune Online Content) and has begun trading on the NASDAQ. As chairman of Tronc, Ferro is determined to usher the historic company into the digital age, focusing on big data and artificial intelligence technology.
Ferro currently resides in Chicago, Illinois.
Michael W. Ferro, Jr. was born in 1966 in Merrick, New York and went on to grow up in Illinois. At the age of 15, while attending high school, Ferro started his first company, Earth Wood Care (EWC). Ferro continued to develop and operate the company full-time while attending the University of Illinois Chicago.
Earth Wood Care was acquired by Lisle-based Pettibone in 1992. Ferro joined Pettibone at the time of the transaction, and at the age of 25, became the company’s youngest division president, and devised a plan for the company to place its inventory and price sheets on the Internet so customers could process their own orders, a revolutionary concept for the manufacturing industry at the time.
In 1994, Ferro left Pettibone to found Click Commerce, a company that provides business application software and related services. Ferro’s success in his early career made him one of the youngest people named to the Forbes "Tech’s 100 Highest Rollers" list. During this time, Ferro was named Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, and won the KPMG Illinois High Tech award as well as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Technology award.
As the Founder of Click Commerce, Ferro was an early pioneer of enabling business-to-business commerce through the Internet and is often credited as the "Father of the Extranet." Ferro’s design continues to serve as the underlying technology for Internet portals today.
At the age of 33, Ferro took Click Commerce public. With an Initial Public Offering date of June 30, 2000, Click Commerce was one of the first tech companies to reopen the market after the tech crash in March of that year. Gaining 76% on its first day, Click Commerce outperformed the 35% first trading day increase seen by the average IPO that quarter.
In 2006, Click Commerce was the fastest growing company in the supply chain/manufacturing category for companies between $10 million and $100 million, with revenues up 128%. Click Commerce had over 1,400 corporate customers and users in 70 countries, supporting 15 languages. During this time, Click Commerce was named to the "Software 500," Software Magazine's list of the world's foremost software and services providers, for three consecutive years.
Ferro sold Click Commerce in 2006 for a reported $292 million in cash.
Ferro went on to found Merrick Ventures LLC, a private equity firm that connects some of the nation’s most powerful investors with Chicago’s budding tech companies. With its debut board of investors from the Crown, Pritzker and Reyes families, among others, Merrick Ventures sought to bring major support to local start-ups during a time when Chicago’s tech entrepreneurs suffered from a lack of venture funding in the Midwest. As the chairman and CEO of Merrick Ventures, Ferro is the founding chairman of Wrapports LLC , which is the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times), higi, LLC, Chicago.com LLC and highschoolcube.com. In February 2016 Merrick Ventures invested $44.4 million in the Chicago-based company Tribune Publishing, which is the parent company of the Chicago Tribune. This makes Ferro and Merrick Ventures the top shareholder of Tribune Publishing with nearly a 17 percent stake in the company.
Named co-chairman of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center alongside Jim O’Connor, Jr in 2005, Ferro led the reinvigoration of Chicago’s tech scene through numerous programs geared toward developing Chicago’s young entrepreneurs. During this time, Ferro served on the Mayor’s Council of Technology Advisors under Mayor Richard M. Daley and founded the Merrick Momentum Awards, an annual event to honor the top three-year-old Chicago corporations. Past winners have included GrubHub, EvEd, Sittercity, Salvo software and Cleversafe.
Ferro is Co-Founder of the Illinois Accelerator (I2a) Fund launched in 2007, a Seed/Early Stage Venture Capital Fund designed to partner with the next wave of successful entrepreneurs in the Chicago region. In 2014, Ferro donated $2 million to build an incubator space for student entrepreneurs in a new project called "The Garage" located within Northwestern University.
Philanthropy and affiliations
Affiliations include: Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute and he holds board positions for the Chicago Community Trust, RAND Health Board of Advisors, Northwestern University, The Economic Club of Chicago, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Big Shoulders Fund, After School Matters. Ferro is a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago, is the Chairman Emeritus of the Young Presidents’ Organization – Chicago and is Chairman Emeritus of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.
2016 Olympic Bid for Chicago
In 2006, Ferro was the Chairman of the Sports Advisory Council, a board of corporate citizens named by Mayor Richard M. Daley, to lead the Chicago bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ferro and his wife, Jacky, co-chaired an event that raised 12 million dollars in one night for the Chicago 2016 bid.
Ferro made his filmmaking debut in 2014 as Executive Producer of Kartemquin Films’ "Life Itself," a documentary about the life of famed Sun-Times film critic, Roger Ebert. Ferro produced the film alongside Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian.
Ferro’s contribution to the film, directed by legendary documentarian Steve James of Hoop Dreams, amounted to nearly half of the total funds raised from individual donors. Ferro’s support for "Life Itself" came as a charitable gift through his personal non-profit foundation. Ferro also arranged for a private screening of the film for Chicago Sun-Times employees before the film hit theaters on July 4, 2014.