One year on
When I joined Unit4 a year ago on 15 April, I never imagined we would be facing a situation like the one we're in today. Let me start by saying to employees and customers alike that I hope you and your families are safe and well.
On my first day, I recall arriving at the Utrecht office to be introduced to the leadership team. I had become interested in Unit4 because of its focus on building ERP for people-based businesses in the midmarket. This people-centric approach (“In Business for People”) intrigued me versus the world of more traditional manufacturing and product-based ERP. Through my research, I had discovered that Unit4 was doing something pretty unique with its cloud-based product architecture and micro-services. That combined with a solid investor, Advent International, ensured that a decision to exit “garden leave” and get back into the game was, in fact, the right one.
Having spent the first eight weeks visiting every Unit4 office, I was delighted to discover another hidden asset -- 2,500 people who were exceptionally passionate about and committed to the product. I would argue this is any software CEO’s perfect dream!
Meeting our customers opened the door to understanding that while not everything was perfect, they had a lot of ideas and suggestions. Most importantly, their passion and commitment to our products really shone through.
Over the first few months, we set out our three-point strategy to transform the business and become the global mid-market leader for people-based ERP.
- Operate, across the organization, like a true cloud company.
- Focus on doing fewer things while rationalizing our product portfolio
- Build an extraordinary people culture
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work and associate with many talented leaders and was humbled that many of them, from various historic chapters (Julie, James, Beata, Andy, Chris), were willing to follow me on this adventure. This enabled us to build a world class cloud leadership team while adding to the very talented leaders who were already at Unit4 (Jeremias, Mike, Erik, Gordon, Lisa, Jeroen, Claus, Matthias, Christophe, Katerina, Yujin, Tom).
And with that, the last four quarters have seen this team deliver some amazing things:
- Refreshing our brand and truly setting out what it means to be “In Business for People”
- Launching our new website this week - www.unit4.com
- Creating a true customer community platform with Community 4U
- Lifting the caps on vacation time allows our people to “take what they need” as we trust them to deliver results. Given the current situation, Unit4 employees are able to take the time they need to care for family members including children who are out of school.
- Re-engaging an analyst community who have been very supportive in guiding and challenging us. Many thanks to you all!
- Building a new three-year plan to becoming the cloud leader in midmarket people-centric ERP.
Most importantly, my team -- all 2500 of them -- delivered on our promises over the last four quarters as well as Q1 of this year as COVID-19 was shutting down countries. This team never gave up and found a way to do what they said we would do. I cannot express just how proud I am of everyone; it has been, without a doubt, the highlight of my career. As Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it is done!”.
On 12 March, after a trip to Silicon Valley, I cancelled a visit to Vancouver and headed home to Florida with the news that many countries were starting to lockdown. For our part, at Unit4, we found the transition to remote work relatively easy as we already had the technology and “know how” in place. We’ve been able to continue with new implementations, customer support and other operations without any interruption.
As a CEO, I draw a lot of energy from the variety in what I do and most importantly the many different colleagues and customers I get to meet. Working from home has eliminated that traditional energy source and has forced me to find other ways to “energize”. I am grateful for a leadership team who constantly engages with each other and most importantly has a tremendous sense of humor on our team chat channel!
I realize this is a challenging time for many businesses. We are proud to see how our customers in the public services and the not-for-profit sector are rising to the challenge of supporting their communities and the beneficiaries they serve. We’re pleased to see our education and professional services customers switching to this “new way of working” and continuing to work with students and clients remotely.
But technology isn’t our first consideration – it never was. For me, it’s always people who come first, and that has never been truer than it is today.
We’re supporting our people with online exercise and meditation sessions while they work at home. We’re helping them stay engaged and productive with our employee engagement tool. To help our customers’ support and engage their employees while they’re working from home, we’re offering this same tool to them, free of charge for six months.
It's all about people
It's at times like this when everything is changing and the future is so uncertain that I rely on my values. As a leader, I am clear on my purpose in life and I try to communicate it clearly to others. I think it's imperative just to be myself because when you're authentic, people trust you and give you their best.
One thing that we achieved late last year, which I’m very proud of, is defining and communicating our values: people first, choose curiosity, make an impact, and be genuine. I love these brilliant, simple statements. They make it crystal clear that we are a people-first company and we are in business to help our customers help the people they serve.
The other major change we've made as a company is refocusing ourselves around the “People Experience”. It’s our unique approach to designing and implementing software that puts people first. Its purpose is to make work easy, helping people to be engaged and productive so they can achieve their organization’s goals.
And finally, we have built a new plan to steer the business through this pandemic staying true to the principle of no layoffs, as a result of the COVID-19 situation, in the first 90 days.
Adapt and thrive
Evolution happens when organisms adapt to change in their environment. It's how they survive. And it's never been more critical than it is now – and will be in the coming year – for organizations to evolve and find faster, cheaper, better ways of delivering value.
Our team at Unit4 are going to be challenged to innovate in ways we have never done before. Given we have a fairly stable recurring revenue base, my leadership team and I are challenged to play both “offense” and “defense” simultaneously. I truly believe that the organizations that successfully pull this off will be the ones who exit this crisis stronger. It’s not an easy thing to do as a leader. And it’s often far easier to default to either growth or cost cutting. To do both, at the same time, will be the hallmark of successful leaders in 2020!
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. If we look at recent history, you can see a pattern of economic recessions being followed by a new wave of business consumption in technology. The recession of the 80’s was followed by client-server; the one in the 90’s by the Internet; and the 2008 recession was followed by the age of cloud. We are spending a great deal of time thinking about what the changes might be after the 2020 recession.
Our customer achievements
We’ve seen many long-standing customers achieve great things this year. In nonprofit, an area of focus for Unit4, it’s inspiring to hear how we’re supporting them in their efforts as they navigate the COVID-19 situation, helping make a difference where they can and continuing their great work, at a time, when funding is scarce and many people are facing great hardship.
Digital transformations may pause slightly during this time, but the need for these transformations will only accelerate in the coming years.
Software saves the world
Marc Andreessen famously said that “Software is eating the world”. Today, I would modify that to “Software is saving the world.” Software has enabled many parts of the economy to continue functioning, software is critical to fighting COVID-19, and software is keeping humanity connected.
As leaders in this industry, we have a much bigger responsibility and obligation than simply selling more software. We must enable our customers to succeed and become more resilient to “Black Swan” events whether it’s with video conferencing, electronic invoicing, or automated payments.
“Software is saving the world.” Software has enabled many parts of the economy to continue functioning, software is critical to fighting COVID-19, and software is keeping humanity connected.
I am an eternal optimist. Even though we’re all facing unforeseen difficulties as a result of this pandemic, I am looking forward to what the future will bring.
No one knows exactly what will happen in the coming year, but if we stay true to our values by putting people first, acting with integrity, and continually innovating, then together we will get through this. And maybe, one year on, we’ll be stronger as a result.
To my family, I would like to thank you for all your support this past year. And to my 2,500 Unit4 colleagues, thank you for an awesome first year … I salute you!