One of Canada’s early breakout software stars of the decade, Vision Critical Communications Inc., is replacing its CEO and moving its headquarters to Toronto from Vancouver.
The changes are part of a push to return to what the company’s directors hope is a period of expansion following a protracted era of wrenching upheaval for the customer insights software firm.
The shakeup will see chief executive Scott Miller cede his post but remain on the board. His successor is Ross Wainwright, a seasoned Canadian-born software-sales executive who previously led Japanese telecom giant Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp.'s North American networking, security and managed services and consulting practice in Chicago. Before that he spent 15 years as a senior executive with SAP SE, where he launched the German multinational’s cloud-based enterprise resource planning offering.
“We took our time [searching for a new CEO] and worked with Scott, who was amazing in the recruiting and selling the [company’s] achievements,” chairman Phil Deck said in an interview. Mr. Miller added: “I believe that the new leadership team that we’ve recruited – and I’ve been active in that from the beginning – will take this business to the next level. I have zero mixed feelings” about departing. “I have been very transparent [in saying] that at some point I would like to get this business to a point where I was sure somebody else could do a better job taking it forward.”
Joining Mr. Wainwright is a former SAP colleague, Canadian Riaz Raihan, who becomes president of products next month. He was most recently general manager of Cisco Systems Inc.’s internet of things business in Silicon Valley and replaces chief technology officer Alan Price.
The headquarters move will not change much; many Vision Critical executives already work in Toronto, and the Vancouver office continues to house many of its developers.
The Vision Critical board is portraying the CEO change as a harmonious passing of the torch. That’s in stark contrast to the deep divide when former CEO Angus Reid, father of company founder Andrew Reid, was a director and shareholder.
As The Globe and Mail reported in 2016, Vision Critical was engulfed for years in a corporate civil war that left the elder Mr. Reid at odds with investors, directors and executives over the firm’s direction. The company had built two businesses: Developing software that corporations use to survey customers on an ongoing basis and a traditional market research and consulting service. The firm’s venture capital backers, including OMERS Ventures and Georgian Partners, wanted Vision Critical to sell the service business – which it did in 2016 – to focus on software. Internal tensions had led fellow directors to strip Mr. Reid of his executive role in 2014 and continued as the veteran pollster questioned company strategies and pushed out several directors. Those conflicts ended when Georgian and U.S. private equity firm W Capital Partners bought out Mr. Reid and other investors in 2016.
Mr. Miller, who had joined in 2012, then overhauled the management team and further shrank Vision Critical’s service activities and work force. The company overhauled its flagship platform to make it easier for generalists to use – not just market research specialists – and more capable of integrating data into other corporate systems. This year the company, with almost 700 customers and $65-million in revenue, became profitable.
But the transition has left it expanding at a relatively anemic rate – well below the 20 per cent Mr. Miller had hoped to achieve by now. “We have modest growth today, not nearly where it needs to be,” Mr. Wainwright said. “We can do more.”
Meanwhile, larger players in its “customer experience management” sector have been growing faster, including Qualtrics LLC, which was sold this year to SAP for US$8-billion, and Medallia Inc., which went public in July and has a US$4-billion market capitalization.
“We remain excited about the customer experience management category as evidenced by” those two exit valuations, said Georgian managing partner and Vision Critical director Simon Chong. “It points to the growth opportunities for Vision Critical.”
The new CEO said that by evolving the product and promoting Vision Critical within corporations beyond market research groups, it can get its growth above 20 per cent. “We have to change the messaging a bit and who we call on,” he said. “We need to go a bit wider … and really sell and execute as an enterprise software company.” By doing so, “we can capitalize on the momentum of the market … and fulfill this company’s potential.”