In a real shocker, longtime Descartes Systems Group (TSX:DSG) boss Art Mesher has retired as the company’s CEO and board chairman “due to health and personal issues”.
The company this morning announced that the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, Ed Ryan, will replace Mesher as CEO and chief corporate officer and corporate secretary Scott Pagan has been appointed as Chief Operating Officer.
“It has been extremely rewarding to serve as CEO of Descartes during the formation of the company’s strategy. I am proud of the company’s results and many achievements, and am thankful for the opportunity to work with a fantastic management team,” said Mesher. “As I step away from Descartes to focus on my health issues and personal life, I have great confidence in the future of the company as Ed and Scott continue to lead the execution of the strategy we created together over many years.”
After nearly becoming a dot-bomb casualty, former Gartner analyst Mesher rescued Descartes, which he estimated was days away from folding. Mesher famously fired all the company’s sales staff and turned its engineers to more customer facing roles. The company has since become a leader in global logistics technology; solutions that help its customers make and receive shipments.
Mesher was known for his fiery personality and deep dislike of decorated or unnecessarily complicated “industry speak”. Both these traits were in full display during a discussion at the M Partners Tech Conference in 2012. A panel, which consisted of TMX Equities President Kevin Cowan, Wellington Financial CEO Mark McQueen, and OMERS Ventures CEO John Ruffolo, was discussing the current state of Canadian technology, which at the time was facing major headwinds.
Mesher, who had spoken earlier in the day, rose from the back of the room and announced that he didn’t really have a question, just a series of statements.
“I think we have to stop worrying about all this stuff,” he said. “We have to stop thinking that Canada is somehow an inferior place to do business, because it’s not, it’s a great place to do business. I have been here eight years and I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Canada is great place to build a company. If you are trying to build a tech company, stop worrying about a ten percent difference in valuation or whatever and get to work. I’m not here to build something that is here for five years or ten years and fizzles out, I am here to build a company that my children and their children can point to with pride. And Canada is one of the best places in the world to do that.”
Difference Capital Managing Director Tom Liston, who began covering Descartes as an analyst in 2006, says Mesher’s work with Descartes was historic.
“Art executed one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Canadian corporate history. Descartes head $30-million in debt and 30-million in cash and Art was able to restructure the company and build a first class culture of service. We spoke to dozens of customers over the years and the common element was Descartes employees all shared this culture of service and ensured their clients were successful. He led to the company from a nearly untenable position to over $920 million in market cap today.”
Former analyst Ron Shuttleworth, who also covered Descartes, agrees.
Art was one of the absolute best CEOs for institutional investors and analysts,” he says. “He helped to define SaaS in Canada, and investor returns have been exceptional. He measured the right things, focused on the right things before everyone else (like world class customer service), and was always straightforward with the street. His last act before he retired is consistent with his character. By naming Ed Ryan as his successor and Scott Pagan as COO, he is able to extend his vision with excellent leaders that have helped Art from the very beginning to establish Descartes Systems Group as a world class public technology company.”