Unit4 appoints FinancialForce ex-CEO as product chief

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright January 11, 2017
How often does the CEO of a demi-unicorn jump ship to head product at an enterprise software firm? FinancialForce ex-CEO tells all about his move to Unit4

Jeremy Roche Unit4, founder FinancialForce 700px wide
Jeremy Roche, Unit4

European ERP giant Unit4 this week named Jeremy Roche as its Chief Product Officer, confirming his new role in the wake of handing over the reins last week as founding CEO of cloud ERP spin-off FinancialForce to hotshot industry veteran Tod Nielsen. Roche takes over his new responsibilities from departing CMO Ivo Totev.

The transition from CEO of a high-growth cloud startup valued at more than half-a-billion dollars to product chief at an established enterprise software business with revenues in excess of half-a-billion euro has been carefully planned. FinancialForce was founded in 2009 as a joint venture between Unit4 and Salesforce — and Roche, who was previously CEO of Unit4 acquisition Coda, has remained on the Unit4 executive board throughout that time.

His appointment completes almost a clean sweep of the Unit4 board since Stephan Sieber took over as CEO nine months ago. Sieber is the last man standing of the executive leadership brought in by his predecessor Jose Duarte in 2014, after private equity investor Advent International acquired Unit4 in a $1.6 billion deal. Head of sales Paul Vogel left for a CEO role at British accountancy software group Iris last year, to be replaced in June by VMware alumnus Will Blench as Chief Sales Officer. With a new CFO and an EVP of strategy and operations joining in 2016, Totev's departure leaves 2015 joiners CHRO Kara Walsh and CTO Eric Tiden as the only remaining members of the previous team.

Not broken

In a short call to discuss his new role, Roche told diginomica that his arrival doesn't herald any sweeping changes or new directions at Unit4, where he will responsible for product management and marketing, working closely with Tiden, who as CTO remains in charge of product research and development. Roche says of his new role:

It's about making sure we're building the right products, delivering them to market in the right way and making sure we're delivering value to customers.

There's so much been done here over the last few years, the great thing for me is, it's going to be building on and enhancing what's been done.

I can help accelerate some of the developments we've been doing. It's not fixing something that's broken, it's building on some excellent groundwork that's been laid.

Roche will be able to bring his experience of growing a cloud applications business to bear at a time when Unit4 is making the transition from traditional client-server software company to become a cloud-first vendor. It's a propitious time to be making the move, he says:

If you combine that with the acceleration of cloud in Europe now and some of the other innovation that has been done around UX and the People Platform, I think we can really capitalize on it.

How do we create value for customers, whatever stage of the lifecycle they're in? ... Cloud is a journey for a customer. If we can create those journeys for customers so they can move at their own pace, that will help the evolution.

No sitting around

The important thing is to offer products that serve customers' emerging needs rather than taking their loyalty for granted, he adds:

Those vendors that rely on customers being sticky, people like Unit4 and FinancialForce are busy eating into those vendors' bases — because those customers are looking for innovation and new ways of doing business. It's every vendor's responsibility not to sit around and wait for that to happen.

Roche will have less traveling to do in his new role. Since FinancialForce relocated its HQ to San Francisco in 2012, Roche has been commuting there each month from Harrogate, England, where the startup shares offices with Unit4. Instead of the 11-hour non-stop transatlantic flight from London Heathrow to SFO, he now has a 45-minute short hop from his local airport across the North Sea to Unit4 HQ in Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

He says his location was one of the factors influencing his change of role. As FinancialForce moves past $100-million revenue run rate and starts planning how to reach the $1 billion-a-year mark, it's better to have a CEO who's based in Silicon Valley and has a track record of building that kind of business, he says.

Given the chance to recruit someone like Tod that's had that experience, that puts FinancialForce in a great position. Having created FinancialForce, it's a lot bigger than just me and I want it to succeed as best it can.

Tod will be great for FinancialForce. I get to stay on in my role as Founder and advisor, and I get to take on a great role at Unit4. I have no regrets. I'm excited about what we're going to achieve.

My take

We don't often cover job moves at diginomica, but this is a rare one. We often see people leaving executive roles at established software companies to try their hands at launching a startup. The path back is a road less traveled — to see the CEO of a high-profile startup walk straight into a top role at an established software company.

We've also been making a point of following the more notable executive changes at Unit4 as it continues its transition from client-server to cloud vendor. These are painful transitions for all established enterprise software vendors and their success matters to customers who rely on their products to run their businesses.

The transition at Unit4 now enters a new chapter and we will continue to monitor its progress.