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BlackLine CEO Therese Tucker, Rare Woman Founder Atop A Public Tech Company, Plans To Step Down

One of tech’s few female public company CEOs is planning to step back.

BlackLine announced on Thursday that CEO Therese Tucker plans to move into an executive chair role, effective January 1, 2021. President Marc Huffman will move into the chief executive role.

“There’s a fundamental difference in the skill sets that are really required to scale a company to become a billion in revenue,” Tucker told Forbes in an interview. “It feels like it’s a good time to announce handing it to him.”

The news comes as BlackLine reported a GAAP net loss of $8.3 million, or $0.15 per share, on revenue of $83.3 million for the second quarter and was scheduled to host an earnings call at 5pm ET.

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Offering accounting software that looks to provide digital alternatives to manual processes and bookkeeping for large businesses, Los Angeles-based BlackLine got its start in 2001 and hit the market the following year on the strength of Tucker’s retirement savings. In 2013, Tucker sold a majority stake of the business to investors Silver Lake and Iconiq Capital, appearing on the inaugural Forbes Cloud 100 list in 2016 ahead of its IPO that October.

Today BlackLine says it has more than 3,100 customers like Coca-Cola and Under Armour, with users in more than 130 countries, including more than half of the top 50 companies in the U.S. by revenue. The company employs 1,100 people in 14 countries and has partnerships in place with many of the top consulting firms and ERP software players such as NetSuite, Oracle and SAP.

And BlackLine has performed well on the public markets since going public, along with much of the cloud computing category. Shares of BlackLine currently trade just under $92, up more than 5x from its offering price then of $17 and nearly double its share price two years ago — giving BlackLine a market capitalization of more than $5 billion.

Huffman joined in February 2018 as chief operating officer, following 14 years at NetSuite, one of BlackLine’s partners. He was named president in February. Huffman had led operations at BlackLine for more than a year, Tucker says, and has more recently led the company’s Covid-19 response group. “Mark is very measured, he listens to everybody, weighs all the different pieces of information. I’m already six miles down the road,” Tucker adds.

Huffman’s task: keep BlackLine, which provided guidance for GAAP revenue to reach $335.5 to $338.5 million for the full year 2020, on a march to $1 billion in revenue – all while continuing to evangelize a somewhat sleepy but big-dollar slice of the software market.

That story has gotten easier to tell, Tucker and Huffman both say, as businesses rush to digitize their operations and workflows in the wake of the pandemic. “If you think about that abstractly it’s like, ‘oh, that’s interesting,’” says Huffman. “But if you think about how important that is for these organizations, and the people involved in the work that gets done, effectively changing the way that they conduct these processes and interact with systems, it’s pretty mind-boggling.”

Tucker’s eventual retirement from the CEO role into a chairperson role will come as bittersweet to those who desire stronger representation and diversity among the ranks of tech entrepreneurs to take businesses public and run them at scale. Only four CEOs of the Cloud 100 list in 2019 – for which Tucker served as a judge, as only private companies are eligible – were led by women, two of them at one company. “It’s disturbing we’ve made such little progress,” Tucker says.

Tucker’s success at BlackLine has long served as a success story for women in tech. But the industry’s gender imbalance and assumptions have continued to be felt even recently. Tucker says she was on an email chain with a bank when she was mistaken for the executive assistant to BlackLine’s male CFO. “I got a request from the other assistant to check my CFO’s calendar for something and I said, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if I have access to that.’ I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened if I had a male name,” Tucker says. “We still have work to do as a society to treat women and people of color without bias; we have a lot of work to do there. We can’t proclaim victory.”

In her new role, Tucker says she’ll be able to spend more time mentoring women entrepreneurs and investing, while she says she has no plans to transition out of working at BlackLine. Mentorship of women in lower-level roles, or at smaller startups, she says, is key to widen the pool of potential leaders at larger tech companies. “If I’ve got more time to serve on boards for women, do more, then I don’t see why this role couldn’t go on for a while,” she says.

With Huffman leading the business moving forward, both executives say they’ll be comfortable with the new roles – a transition that hasn’t always proven easy for businesses where long-time founders step back, but stick around. Tucker’s spin: the new role means she can focus on meeting customers and working on product, leaving the company-running, “all the stuff I hate doing,” to Huffman.

“I still think this company has not even begun to achieve its full potential,” Tucker says. “If I thought we were just coasting from here on out, I’d be bored and I’d leave.”

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