Stephan Sieber took over as CEO of Unit4 in April. He joined the company in 2014, after over more than a decade at SAP, including Managing Director of SAP Switzerland and Chief Operating Officer of the region DACH (Germany, Switzerland and Austria). He was also a member of the management team of SAP Germany. I had a chance to talk to him about the first couple of months in the new job and his vision for the company.
Here is part 1 of the interview
The first months must have been incredibly hectic. Please share with readers your initial thoughts from the new job.
First of all yes, it has been hectic, but in a positive way. I am doing two jobs - as CEO and continuing my old job as head of sales. My successor as head of sales will join us n early July.
In many ways, I am executing on a strategy that has been worked on for years. When I joined Unit4 in April, 2014, I joined initially as head of strategy. I think I was quite instrumental in putting the company on the journey that we have taken.
I think my biggest surprise is seeing the massive amount of opportunity in the market. Of course, I knew that in my earlier strategy job, but I was more occupied, to be honest, with a lot of internal work developing our operating model. Then I took over sales in mid '15 and I spent significantly more time playing outside with very tangible customer opportunities and prospect opportunities. Now as CEO, I can step back a bit from the more tactical day to day business and look at the market and the company from a more strategic point of view.
When I look at what is going on in the IT industry and how we can bring new technology to service organizations (Unit4's focus in verticals) it's just amazing to see the massive amount of opportunity that lies ahead of us. Our margin is improving quite nicely as a result of the changes in the operating model we have adopted, but even more importantly, our top line is trending the right way.
The previous CEO, Jose Duarte had a services background. You have a strategy and sales background. Is that causing any transition challenges for your organization?
I think Jose and I have a pretty comparable background when it comes to focus on sales and services. He was running a global services organization at SAP. This is something that I had not done but I was a general manager at SAP managing large regions and geographies and they had a strong service footprint as well.
Where I want to be different is to be even more specific in our vertical definitions. I think a definition like professional services is too broad of a target market. A law firm or a marketing agency or an engineering, procurement and contracting (EPC) are not comparable. I think we need to be even more specific on how we differentiate and how we help our customers to better manage their business.
Talking of your focus services industries - your higher education sector seems to be doing very well from the number of customer wins you keep announcing. Both you and Jose had identified a handful of other service verticals. Are you going to accelerate your move into some of the other service verticals, either via acquisitions or other investments?
As you know, till we took the company private in early 2014, Unit4 was run more as a conglomerate of technology firms than as a single global technology firm. We wanted to change this and make it a global tech leader with a global operating model. As part of that shift, we put acquisitions on hold and decided we would also change the style of acquisitions when we did them again. We didn't want to just acquire market share, installed base and recurring revenues. We wanted to acquire technology and also team members that help us to innovate and grow.
When we came across the higher education player, Three Rivers, it was the type of solution we’re looking for. It's state of the art. It's modern technology with mobile capabilities and embedded analytics and provides a 360 degree view on student success. It puts the student in the center of the application while allowing for multiple views of administration for the university.
Three Rivers was our first attempt at a different way to grow. From that point of view it has been a major success because as you rightfully pointed out we see the market reacting to that. We win a lot of new business. We see installed base customers migrating. We also see that we have been able to integrate this company in record time and to use the flexible platforms (for example, in R&D, but also customer support or our global deliver center in Lisbon for implementation services) to create synergies with acquisitions. From that point of view this is clearly the prototype or the poster child for what we want to do going forward and yes, you will be seeing us more active in the M&A space.
Don't forget though - we are still heavily focused on organic investments in our own R&D. Our CTO and his team are working on a completely new standalone professional service automation (PSA) solution. You could look at this PSA project almost like an acquisition that we did because we're putting additional, incremental teams, on top of the platforms that we have created.
Part 2 will run tomorrow