With the appointment of three new executives, Chef believes it is most of the way through a year-long strategy shift that sets it up for the future with money in the bank and strategic options at hand.
Evan Fein, an early Impinj employee who eventually led the company to its 2016 IPO as chief financial officer, is joining Chef in the same role. Chef also plans to announce that Katie Long has joined the company as vice president of legal and that Jenny Armstrong-Owen is the new vice president of employee experience, elevating that position from a direct report into the finance organization into a separate group that reports directly to CEO Barry Crist.
“The company, if I think about the last year, has been going through a major strategy shift,” Crist said in an exclusive interview with GeekWire. “It’s about building the team to put into place for the next major chapter for Chef and our future.”
The shift Crist refers to is an acknowledgment of the persistent growth of cloud computing and associated technologies, like containers, that have changed the way companies think about their infrastructure. Chef’s traditional business — which is kind of a funny thing to say about a company founded in Seattle 10 years ago — involved helping infrastructure operators manage their on-premises servers by using code to configure and deploy that computing infrastructure.
But as it tends to do, the world changed, and quite quickly. Large enterprises are embracing public cloud computing and rethinking the way they deploy infrastructure and write software, and infrastructure tool makers like Chef and its Portland rival, Puppet, have both undergone major changes in the last several years as they have overhauled their product lines around this new reality.
Chef has reorganized both sales and engineering over the past year, asking co-founder Adam Jacob to return to his prior role managing the engineering teams amid a plea for “engineering execution” and hiring Corey Scobie as its new senior vice president of products and engineering. Former Chief Revenue Officer Tucker Callaway also left the company for the Bay Area, and new senior vice president of sales Ryan Ried came on board along with Scobie in May of last year.
“There are times as a company where you are in the spotlight of what’s hot, and other times you’re not,” Crist said. “For us, the meaningful thing is: are we driving sustained growth, are we bringing new large customers on board, and are we increasing our footprint with those customers,” he said. In his opinion, Chef is doing all three.
Fein’s appointment as CFO in replacing Curt Anderson, who has been at the company since 2013, will immediately trigger questions about Chef’s future. Hiring a veteran CFO with IPO experience is generally seen as a sign that a company is thinking pretty hard about its strategic options, and while Crist downplayed talk of an IPO in the near future, “there’s no reason this should not be a public company,” he said.
One potential lingering issue from Fein’s Impinj tenure: an investor lawsuit filed against the company last week that named him as a defendant, alleging that Impinj defrauded investors by claiming a surge in demand caused by customers worried about production problems was authentic demand. “We have full confidence in Evan, who has a strong reputation for integrity and transparency,” Crist said in a statement.
Long has been with Chef since July, according to her LinkedIn profile. She is a Seattle native with “IPO and M&A experience,” Chef noted in its press release announcing the appointment of the three new executives.
Armstrong-Owen also worked at Impinj, and joined Chef in June, according to her LinkedIn profile. While around 35 percent of Chef’s 280 employees are based in Pioneer Square, the company’s operations have gotten more complex over the years with a substantial development organization in Northern Ireland and Berlin, Crist said.
Crist stressed that Chef’s balance sheet is healthy; a credit to outgoing CFO Anderson, he said. Chef has raised $105 million over its existence but hasn’t tapped the financing markets since 2015, and Crist believes Chef can become cash-flow positive with the cash reserves it has on hand.