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MobileIron CEO out in favor of CFO: Why now?

As the biggest standalone vendor left in the EMM market, MobileIron has faced questions about its future for years. Those will only intensify in light of the surprise departure of CEO Barry Mainz.

Mainz and the board of directors came to a mutual decision that he should leave, the company said this week. CFO Simon Biddiscombe will take his place as MobileIron CEO and on the board. The move came as MobileIron announced its preliminary financial results for Q3, which fell short of analysts’ expectations.

All of the other major enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendors, with the exception of BlackBerry, are large enterprise software providers that offer a variety of end-user computing and IT infrastructure products. Most of them, including VMware, IBM and Citrix, got into the market by acquiring standalone EMM vendors. And even BlackBerry contributed to the EMM market consolidation by buying rival Good Technology.

Because of these market dynamics, acquisition chatter regularly swirls around MobileIron. By naming its CFO as chief executive, the company has added fuel to that fire.

“When you put in the CFO as CEO, you’re looking for a sale,” said analyst Maribel Lopez, founder of Lopez Research, on Twitter.

New MobileIron CEO faces uphill climb

Biddiscombe, who has been with MobileIron since 2015, does have CEO experience, however. He was chief executive of server and storage vendor QLogic from 2010 to 2013, when he resigned after a period of steady sales declines.

In his introductory letter as MobileIron CEO, Biddiscombe positioned the company’s standalone status as a positive.

“Our strengths are our focus and agility, and, as a result, we are better positioned than any other company to support our customers,” he wrote.

But focus and agility are not exclusive to smaller vendors. Mobility isn’t exactly getting lost in the shuffle at VMware, which is using AirWatch’s technology for lots of new innovations around workspaces and identity management, for example. MobileIron also has some weaknesses that Biddiscombe’s letter alluded to, including in sales and operations.

All in all, it’s clear that he’ll have some work to do to keep up with much larger competitors — if that is his goal, rather than priming the company for a sale.

Mainz era comes to an end

Mainz took over as MobileIron CEO from co-founder Bob Tinker in January 2016, following a challenging time for the vendor and the EMM market as a whole. The company went public in 2014, just months after rival AirWatch sold to VMware. Wall Street began to view EMM as a small piece of a bigger puzzle, and MobileIron’s stock price suffered, dropping from $9 at initial public offering to below $4 when Tinker stepped down.

Upon his hiring as MobileIron CEO, Mainz sent mixed messages about the company’s future, saying he’d “look at all offers” for an acquisition but also that “my plan’s not to sell.” Over the past 21 months, he managed to keep MobileIron on pace with its EMM market competitors; the company remained a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for both 2016 and 2017. And for a while, the stock price was on the way to recovery, reaching a high of $6.60 in June of this year.

But in July, around the time MobileIron announced Q2 revenue that missed Wall Street’s mark, the stock plummeted to the mid-$4 range, and it has hovered at or below the $4 mark since August.

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New Mobileiron CEO in my opinion would able to face uphill climb through talent acquisition and innovation.
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It's usually a sign of early-entry into the Death Spiral™ when a CFO becomes CEO, but Biddiscombe was a CEO once before.  Hard to tell how this one will play out.
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