Five months after Martin Hellawell announced his plan to step down as CEO of Softcat, his successor has yet to be unveiled.
In a recent interview with CRN, Hellawell confirmed that a shortlist has been drawn up following the appointment of a headhunter in June, but stressed that he is in no rush to step back into a non-executive role.
We spoke to a range of industry execs to hear their tips on who would theoretically be a good fit. Here are eight names that cropped up [disclaimer: there is no suggestion any are actually on the shortlist, or would even be interested in the role].
Hellawell himself said in May that his successor will most likely be an external appointment, stressing that managing director Colin Brown had ruled himself out of the running.
Softcat is now an £800m-revenue firm and its market capitalisation recently spiked through the £500m barrier, meaning it is now on the radar of analysts the world over (global investment bank Jeferries recently upgraded its rating on Softcat from 'hold' to 'buy'). Appointing an experienced external candidate well versed in the ins and outs of investor relations would therefore seem a natural move.
That said, one source pointed towards current Softcat CFO Graham Charlton as a potential fit. Young, known to be popular, and with an obvious nous for numbers, Charlton has been with Softcat since January 2015, and has worked for Experian and comparethemarket.com. An internal appointment would hold several advantages, not least that they are a known quantity and already initiated in Softcat's famous fun culture.
If Softcat is after a big hitter, former HP and HPE bigwig Andy Isherwood may be just the ticket. He is currently managing director of HPE's EMEA business, but is heading for the exit doors (we hear in December) following a management reshuffle. Having joined HP as a graduate in 1988, Isherwood certainly has the required gravitas and experience.
"The only problem with having someone from manufacturing, especially when they've been in one organisation for so long, is whether they can very quickly get to grips with the vendor landscape and being in the channel," one onlooker said. "But he is a really bright guy."
The former Dell EMC UK boss is another big name on the market right now.
In a blog post at the time of his departure, Griffin reflected on how his time at Dell had seen him run large sales organisations, manage services operations and build talent - experience that would all potentially be relevant for a firm like Softcat. Dell's direct-selling roots and OEM partnerships also mean its culture is more akin to Softcat's than that of most vendors.
"I am not sure what lies through the next door," added Griffin, who formally left Dell in April 2017 after 54 quarters. According to his LinkedIn profile he is currently a non-executive director of Welsh Rugby Union.
Emma de Sousa
Insight's vice president of UK and Ireland was cited as a natural fit for the role by several people we spoke to.
In a recent interview with CRN, Hellawell said his successor would first and foremost have to gel with Softcat's dynamic culture, adding that experience working in the tech industry or at a publicly listed firm would also count in candidates' favours. On that basis, de Sousa ticks a lot of boxes, although whether she'd want to uproot from Manchester is another matter. She has also shown staunch loyalty to Insight since joining the $5bn global reseller in 2006 as UK operations director.
The former MicroWarehouse and Insight boss certainly has one of the most relevant CVs going. Industry success story Softcat is a different proposition from his previous, turnaround-oriented roles in the reseller market, however.
When approached for comment, Fenton - who now heads up £14m-revenue Microsoft Dynamics partner QuantIQ - also made it clear that he has "retired" from the reseller business model.
"I don't have the right skill set for that role. I joined MicroWarehouse and Insight when they were very broken and needed tough medicine and that continued with the acquisition of Software Spectrum. Softcat doesn't need a turnaround guy," he said.
As well as being a successful entrepreneur with a strong background in technology-based businesses, Murria also happens to sit on Softcat's board as a non-executive director.
Pre-Softcat, she founded and grew Advanced Computer Software, a software provider that had 2,000 staff and £200m at the time it was sold to Vista Equity Partners for £725m in 2015. Advanced was also listed on AIM, meaning she knows her way around a public company.
Distribution heavyweight Watt's name came up as many times as any other during the course of our enquiries. A qualified accountant, the former Avnet TS EMEA boss would be comfortable with investor discussions, and is a well-respected figure in the industry. Speculation about Watt's next move is inevitable given Avnet's takeover by Tech Data last year. He also knows the UK market, and Softcat, well.
That the name of Daisy's current CEO cropped up is perhaps only natural given his track record running large reseller/IT services organisations, both at Daisy and Martin Hellawell's previous employer, Computacenter.
Muller is currently in charge of an organisation with a £700m revenue run rate and 3,800 staff, and was previously UK managing director at Computacenter, meaning he is one of the few reseller/SI bosses around who would not be daunted by Softcat's scale. Whether he would want to leave ambitious Daisy after less than three years in the hotseat is another question.
Softcat is now the UK's largest pure-play reseller and continues to grow rapidly - with sales up 24 per cent in its fiscal 2017. It is highly profitable compared with its peers, its share price is ballooning and its stock was recently backed by a star fund manager. Running the business is certainly a dream job. But it will also be a tough gig, especially given the stamp Hellawell has put on the role during his 12 years in charge.
First and foremost, his successor will have to demonstrate that they can quickly and easily bed into the unique customer and employee-centred culture Hellawell and his team have created.
But as Hellawell has himself made clear, Softcat is not looking for a clone of its current CEO now it is a FTSE 250 firm. Having a fun side and a focus on sales will therefore be a necessary, but not sufficient, attribute for the role, which is now almost as much about interfacing with the financial community as it is with staff and customers.
The next leader's key challenges will include how to expand Softcat's prowess in enterprise and public sector without losing focus on its midmarket stronghold. At some point Softcat's increased scale will also demand investment in new systems and processes.
Hellawell himself has said that industry experience would be a desirable - but not compulsory - attribute for his successor. For all we know, the next CEO could be a wildcard from another sector entirely. In truth, there were at least eight other names we could have mentioned - the octet we've selected are just a flavour of who has a relevant track record in the industry.
Whoever Softcat's search panel - led by current non-executive chairman Brian Wallace and senior independent director Lee Ginsberg - plumps for, they have the luxury of time on their side, while Hellawell has stressed that a quarter of his time will still be spent on Softcat projects even after he steps back, which can only count in the firm's favour.
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