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Copperleaf CEO Judi Hess in Whistler, B.C., on Dec. 11, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Judi Hess, one of the few women to lead a Toronto Stock Exchange-listed technology company, is stepping down as CEO of Vancouver’s Copperleaf Technologies Inc., CPLF-T but she isn’t going far.

The 64-year-old chief executive of one of the flurry of Canadian technology companies to go public last year will become Copperleaf’s chief strategist and vice-chair on Jan. 1, the company announced this week. Replacing her as CEO of the decision analytics software company is Australian Paul Sakrzewski, 54, who joined Copperleaf in 2018 and built up its Asia-Pacific-Japan business, which accounts for 21 per cent of revenue. He became president earlier this year. Mr. Sakrzewski previously headed Asia-Pacific operations for German software giant SAP SE.

“I always thought of Paul as a successor at one point,” Ms. Hess said in an interview Wednesday, adding such a promotion hadn’t seemed likely as his wife also had a senior executive role that kept the couple in Singapore. But after his wife decided to take time off from her career to have a child and they relocated to Vancouver this year, “that created this opportunity we really wanted to take advantage of” to promote Mr. Sakrzewski, Ms. Hess said. “I want to give someone else the opportunity to run the company and support them in the transition and after.”

Ms. Hess said she will focus on product, business strategy and working “to understand how we can drive more value to our clients and that intersection of all the pieces of the business. I would rather be spending my time focused on that than a lot of the things you get wrapped up in when you are CEO of a public company.” She said she had no plans to retire yet. “There are so many things I want to do. I am so invested in Copperleaf.”

Mr. Sakrzewski said in a statement: “I look forward to working with Judi to further develop and grow the business while ensuring a seamless transition.”

The transition “was unexpected and hadn’t been previously telegraphed” to the market, BMO Capital Markets analyst Thanos Moschopoulos said in a note. But it has been well-received because of the harmonious transition and the incoming CEO’s track record, Canaccord Genuity analyst Robert Young said in a note. Copperleaf shares closed up more than 4 per cent on the news Tuesday, before dipping 3 cents to end the day at $6.42 on Wednesday.

The stock is still down more than half from its $15 IPO price last October, reflecting the broader sell-off that has hit tech stocks. Copperleaf was one of the last of the crop of 16 tech companies that went public on the TSX in 2021 to trade above its issue price before it sank this year over concerns its investments in growth will take longer to bear fruit than investors hoped. Copperleaf was profitable for most of the past decade but dipped into losses in 2018 as it worked to expand revenue at a faster clip.

“Investor sentiment has clearly soured on technology companies, particularly small-cap companies that aren’t profitable,” Mr. Moschopoulos said in an interview. Copperleaf is now valued at less than half the level of other subscription-software companies in the analytics space, Mr. Young said.

Ms. Hess at the Copperleaf offices in Vancouver on Oct. 25, 2019.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Moschopoulos said Copperleaf’s balance sheet is in good shape and that it “may be more recession-resilient than other businesses.” Copperleaf has never lost a client, selling to utilities and transportation giants that use the software for “mission critical” planning to optimize capital spending. Ms. Hess said the company has benefited from increased demand as customers adapt spending plans for climate-focused energy transition.

Ms. Hess joined Copperleaf in 2009 after serving as president of Creo, a maker of digital technology for commercial printers. At the time Copperleaf was early in its transition from a small technology services provider to a software vendor, and struggling to get its fledgling program completed. She oversaw the project’s successful deployment, raised money and recruited a swath of former Creo employees, then gradually won over dozens of utilities. Revenue in the second quarter was $20.6-million, up 23 per cent year over year.

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