Friday, 30 November 2007

Mark Hunter to leave Axon

It has just been announced that Mark Hunter is stepping down from the Axon board at the end of 2007 – ie in just a few weeks time. Steve Cardell had been appointed CEO earlier this year with Hunter assuming the Chairman role. Roy Merritt takes over as non exec Chairman

Let me declare right from the start that I have great respect for Mark. He founded Axon in 1994 when he was a mere slip of a 31 year old. So he’s retiring now as a mere slip of a 44 year old!

In those 13 years he had built a business of international standing. Although the share price is well down now from its peak (it has fallen over 20% this month), the company is still worth £362m and forecasts profits of £35m in FY07. An investment in the Axon’s IPO in 1999 would now be showing a 5x increase.

Axon was one of my favourite companies because:

1 – It “Stuck to the Knitting”. It started as an SAP implementation house (Hunter had spent 4 years at SAP before founding Axon). “SAP implementation house” would be a pretty accurate description of it now too! Since then, of course, it has expanded overseas into the US in particular by a series of well targeted acquisitions. They all seemed strategically justifiable and met the Holway “How to avoid Acquisition Indigestion” mantra. Indeed Hunter was asked, at the very last Conference panel I Chaired with him in Apr this year, what was his formula for successful M&A and avoiding the dreaded “Culture Clash” issues. His reply was “FIFO” which initially I and few others in the audience understood.

FIFO? “Fit In or F*** Off” was his response!

2 – of Hunter himself. Mark is a character. There are few left in our industry. He called spades, spades. He always spoke his mind. As well as remembering my last meeting with Mark (see above) I also remember my first. Having arrived at their HQ with its “soft toy play area” just off the reception, I was shown into Mark’s office with whiteboards on all four walls. He managed to conduct the whole interview standing up using all four boards at the same time. I was exhausted at the end!

Mark was quoted in the Observer recently answering a question about his business philosophy. He replied “Get great people. The End”.

Mark was one of those.

I am absolutely sure, however, that this is not “The End”, or the last we will see, of Mark.

No comments: