Cloud CEO resignations: Twilight of the Titansby
In the past month, two pioneers of UK cloud accounting have announced their departure from their founding companies: FreeAgent’s Ed Molyneux and Gary Turner from Xero’s UK subsidiary.
In June, Ed Molyneux revealed his plans to leave FreeAgent and explore new avenues. Having overseen the company’s £53m acquisition by Royal Bank of Scotland (now NatWest Group) in 2018 and transition to operating within the banking group, Molyneux was perhaps in a position to pursue a more relaxed lifestyle as a tech investor and consultant.
“After nearly 15 amazing years spent immersed in every facet of FreeAgent, I’ve done everything I want to do as CEO and now is the time for new challenges,” Molyneux blogged as he handed the reins over to co-founder Roan Lavery.
The underlying factors for Gary Turner’s surprise announcement are a little harder to fathom. The announcement that he would leave Xero at the end of the year arrived out of the blue earlier this week and set tongues wagging throughout the cloud ecosystem.
“After 12 incredible years, I have decided to retire from operational duties at Xero. I’m not disappearing completely though. Once my successor is in place later this year, I’ll be sticking around in an advisory capacity working with Xero’s global team,” Turner blogged on LinkedIn.
In the 12 years since he joined Xero, Turner built the business up from three employees and £50,000 annual revenues to a behemoth claiming 750,000 users and annual revenues of £115m. While he’s obviously keen to build a new portfolio career based around his passion for supporting small businesses, the lack of an obvious and immediate successor seems like a managerial oversight.
A tale of two executives
The contrasting career paths of Molyneux and Turner offer a neat insight into the world of software entrepreneurs. In 2005, ex-RAF fighter pilot Molyneux was working as a freelance software developer and was frustrated with the lack of effective bookkeeping tools for people like him.
That frustration led to the formation of FreeAgent, which grew into the accounting program of choice for 30,000+ freelances and software contractors. Then RBS came calling, effectively turning FreeAgent into a free accounting companion for its business bank account holders – significantly expanding its user base.
Turner, meanwhile, was a seasoned accounting software veteran. He rose through the sales ranks to become managing director at Pegasus after a melodramatic sequence of events during the 2001 dotcom boom and subsequent bust.
After the company was acquired by Infor in 2006, he faithfully informed AccountingWEB readers: “Pegasus is at the point where we are looking to invest in a longer term road map. Infor is totally committed to maintaining the Pegasus Opera II culture.”
Less than a year later, Turner had moved on to Microsoft as UK product marketing director for the US giant’s Dynamics family of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
For someone so immersed in the old, client-server world, Turner could sniff the opportunity when New Zealand-based cloud startup Xero turned up with an invitation to lead its UK operation in 2009. AccountingWEB was surprised to see the Microsoft executive turn up at New Zealand house for Xero founder Hamish Edwards’ UK farewell party, reveal himself as the next country manager and use his iPhone in an industry setting for the first time in several years.
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