Unit4 has announced that Jeremy Roche, former CEO of FinancialForce will rejoin the senior management team as Chief Product Officer. He takes over from Ivo Totev who is stepping down from the role after a two month handover. Roche served as COO at Unit4, for the first three years he was CEO at FinancialForce. He remained on the executive committee at Unit4 for that direction and retains that position in his new role.
Stephan Sieber, Unit4 CEO explains further: “His appointment comes at a time when Unit4 is seeing growing demand for its cloud solutions. Our customers are excited by our self-driving business applications delivering support for industry specific solutions and redefined user experience. We are very pleased to have Jeremy on board focusing on further improving our customer experience and ensuring we get our customers the business results they want. Under Jeremy’s lead we will further align product management and product marketing to deliver a premium end-to-end experience for customers and ensure that our product roadmaps and go-to-market offerings fulfill sector and customer needs.”
Roche refuses to abandon FinancialForce
We spoke to Roche shortly after he landed in Utrecht, a rather shorter flight than he normally experiences and while he has stepped down from the role as CEO at FinancialForce he is still an evangelist for the company. While he acknowledged that Tod Nielsen needs to find his own feet as his successor he has fashioned a role of Founder and Special advisor to the company he described as “FinancialForce is my third child”.
With a family based in the UK , Roche found his travel time ate into too much of his work or family time. Unwilling to relocate to the West Coast Roche clearly decided it was time to hand things on. In Nielsen he believes he has found the right man to lead FinancialForce into the future. Roche commented: “What really attracted me to Tod was that he thinks in broad management terms in very much the same way that I do. We have the same sort of mantras, though we word it differently because of our different backgrounds. He has come from that bigger end and has seen that scaling. I think that’s a great thing for FinancialForce.”
The timing for bringing in Nielsen seems right. Roche remembers some advice that Marc Benioff gave him when FinancialForce was set up. Roche commented: “I remember when Marc Benioff and I sat down first and he said “first of all you need to break million, then you need to break 10 , then you’ve got to do 100, and then you need to do a billion and that’s the way you need to think about a business like yours. I remember getting through the first million and the first ten and getting towards that first 100 you have to think about how you are going to scale.”
Conflict of interest at Unit4?
Roche will advise and represent FinancialForce to customers while also acting in the role of Chief Product Officer at Unit4. Is there the potential conflict of interest? We asked Roche this question directly. Roche replied: “I have been on Unit4’s executive tea, since the day we created FinancialForce I was the Chief Operating Officer at Unit4 for the first three years while we built out FinancialForce. Unit4 was FinancialForces main investor, I have never really seen, not do I think there is that competitive bit just because the products are in the same spaces. Unit4 has a big presence in Europe, where as FinancialForce has a big presence in the US.
“Unit4’s Cloud is Microsoft Azure and FinancialForces cloud is Salesforce. So you have the technology difference. The technology differences mean that the products work in different ways. The FinancialForce product is built around that CRM heart in Salesforce. UNIT4 is built around the people platform, so it is people based. In the 7 years of FinancialForce, Unit4 and FinancialForce have never competed. We are in different markets, different spaces. different geographies and subtly different specialisms.”
“We talked about this very early on when we decided to create FinancialForce. It was one of the discussions we had. Chris Ouwinga who was the CEO of Unit4 at the time, Edwin the CFO and the board said ‘Well if we create this FinancialForce maybe it will compete with us. Well actually competition is not a bad thing and we would rather compete with ourselves.’ As it is, we forged our own markets.”
The Chief Product Officer role
We asked Roche what the new role entails. Roche said: “At a high level this is about how we innovate and create products that are market specific and solving business solutions. At the same time whilst Unit4 has done masses of cloud work I am going to help them innovate in the cloud as well. I am going to take all the things I learnt at FinancialForce and helping to apply them in Unit4. One of the exciting things about that is that Europe lags behind the US and we are starting to see that tipping point in Europe in cloud. I think it is time for innovation and that entrepreneurial spirit to go do some real damage in the market.”
We then asked Roche what success would look like. Interestingly his initial response related to FinancialForce. Roche said: “Success for me is going to be FinancialForce really thriving under Tod’s leadership. Which I’m 100% convinced will be the case. FinancialForce continuing to grow and pushing that billion dollars.”
“For Unit4, watching the cloud over here in Europe, watching Unit4 accelerate and getting some real innovation into cloud in Europe and seeing the results of that.”
This is an excellent appointment for Unit4. They are bringing home a top executive after what was a seven year sabbatical running a next generation cloud company. His experience and expertise will be invaluable to Unit4 as they look to compete aggressively in the European market. While there is a growing risk that FinancialForce and Unit4 will compete in the future. One shouldn’t forget that Unit4 are the majority shareholder in FinancialForce. That competition will be fierce, but friendly. Roche’s enthusiasm was summed up in his opening words of the interview when he said: “I would put myself in the excited category at the moment. I am excited with what we are doing with FinancialForce and I am excited for what I am going to be doing with Unit4 as well.”
What the future holds for Unit4 now is exciting. If Roche can deliver on his vision for Unit4, is there a future role as CEO at Unit4, possibly.