Sage names head of Europe as new CEO

Sage, one of the UK’s largest software companies, has named Guy Berruyer as a successor to Paul Walker, chief executive, who is stepping down after 16 years.

Mr Berruyer, a 59-year-old French national, is chief executive of Sage’s mainland European operations, having joined the accounting software company in 1997. He is also responsible for the group’s Asian operations.

He was chosen for the position over a number of other Sage executives, including Paul Stobart, head of the UK operations, and Paul Harrison, chief financial officer.

There is likely to be some concern among investors that Mr Harrison, who has been a prominent “face” of the company alongside Mr Walker, will not want to stay on at Sage having missed out on the top job.

Analysts said that appointing a Frenchman to head up the Newcastle-based company was a natural progression for a group that has become increasingly international through a series of acquisitions over the past 16 years. More than 80 per cent of the company’s revenues come from outside the UK.

Mr Berruyer also has a strong background in the IT industry, having worked at US software company Intuit, and Bull, the French software group.

“There was some concern that Sage was a company run by accountants for accountants, and was missing the pizzazz of the software sector. Guy Berruyer will be able to strike the happy balance of bringing in some changes while still understanding the Sage culture,” said George O’Connor, analyst at Panmure Gordon.

Mr Berruyer takes the reins at Sage at a turbulent time, with investors looking for strategic changes at the business after lacklustre growth since the recession.

Sage has long been one of the UK’s steadiest technology stocks, outperforming the market. But in the year to September 30 2009, underlying sales fell 4 per cent to £1.44bn, and recent interim results showed signs of stabilisation but not upturn.

In contrast, rivals such as Visma of Norway, a Sage acquisition target in 2006, reported organic growth of more than 7 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

Sage has fallen behind rivals in key emerging technology areas, such as offering software as a service to customers rather than the traditional off-the shelf software that customers load on to their own computers. Many shareholders are hoping that new leadership will be able to take decisive action to catch up.

In the US, Microsoft and SAP have targeted the top end of Sage’s market while Kashflow and Netsuite have targeted smaller potential customers.

Anthony Hobson, Sage chairman, said in a statement Mr Berruyer was well qualified to lead the group with his international experience, market expertise and proven record of delivering innovative software and services.

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