In profile: Former Sage FD Michael Metcalf

Everyone’s at it these days. Gone are the days when accountants, chartered, certified or otherwise, remained behind the scenes. Nowadays accountants want to go as far as they possibly can. And to the top they are definitely going.

Last month, Michael Metcalf, the chief operating and financial officer at fashion chain Burberry announced that, after five years in his role, he has decided that it is time to move on. To where?

The chartered accountant wants to step away from the role of financial director and has put himself onto the market for a position as a chief executive. And this month, research by our sister title Financial Director identified Paul Walker, chief executive of software giant Sage, as one of the most successful FDs-turned-CEO in the country.

The survey showed that Walker, who began as a humble company accountant at Sage in 1984, has added a total shareholder return of almost 975% relative to the market.

Walker’s performance at Sage as CEO since January 1994 is exceptional in some part due to the explosion in IT. However, it remains that the value created in share price and dividends is phenomenal.

Walker’s success as CEO is somewhat exceptional in comparison to other FDs-turned-CEOs. He was way ahead of the other 60-odd chief executives in the survey who had once been finance directors among the FTSE350.

And this while executive recruitment specialists believe there is a residual bias against FDs when it comes to looking for a chief executive.

Since the heady days of the dotcom boom, Sage has experienced tough competition in the marketplace. It has been struggling to keep its place on the bluechip list following drops in its share price. But it remains the only software company left in the FTSE100.

Under Walker’s leadership, the Newcastle-based accountancy software group recently ventured into the US market, following the acquisition of Timberline in a deal worth £63.9m. The purchase is part of Sage’s strategy of growth through acquisitions.

Walker said: ‘The acquisition of Timberline fits with our strategy of acquiring locally developed and locally supported market-leading software brands. Timberline will expand our business into two vertical markets: construction and real estate. We expect to create value through selling Timberline’s products to our large and growing US customer base, and through selling additional Sage products and services to Timberline customers.’

This strategy if successful will only prove to build upon not only Sage’s success but that of Walker’s reputation and pay packet, too. In 2000, Sage accounted for two multimillionaires in the Sunday Times Rich List: Graham Wylie, former UK managing director and co-founder of Sage, was worth £695m, while Paul Walker was said to be worth £64m.


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