Will Orion Health boss Ian McCrae have the grit to put his passion behind what he does best?

Can he stand aside as chief executive and drive the company's intellectual grunt, and bring in a CEO to drive the enterprise sales which are so critical to the company's revenue streams and pathway to profitability?

It's been a dreadful week for him.

Orion shares have taken a tumble - down 30 per cent since Monday before they stabilised yesterday - on the back of revelations the company had failed to secure critical contracts before balance date and brokers had downgraded the stock.


Yesterday, the shares closed at $1.44, way down from the listing price of $6.50 in 2014 when the stock was benefiting from the technology wave.

Orion is hardly alone in having to go through the embarrassment of issuing new guidance to the market. Fletcher Building and now Comvita have trod the same path.

But there is an underlying issue which in my view stands in the way of the company's success.

Spend time talking with McCrae, or listening to him on a Podcast or watching him at TedX talks and his enthusiasm for precision healthcare is contagious. He doesn't use that language of course.

His eyes light up when he talks about mathematical models of the human body, or mapping a person's genes which will help to predict, for instance, if they will develop breast cancer and the public savings that can be achieved in the health system through good data management.

It's not the same when he talks about the deal-making which is essential to nailing revenue growth.

And those big enterprise software deals are different, for instance, to Xero which has more than a million customers paying a small monthly subscription. It needs to book them to keep shareholder confidence.

As a Xero insider pointed out to me this week, their company's business path was harder at the start but involved less risk later on.


McCrae is not only Orion's chief executive but also the company's co-founder and majority shareholder. But like many a company founder, he is now in the position of not having enough time to work to effectively deploy his best asset, which is himself.

Orion is in talks with potential new shareholders and partners.

But it is now on the back foot.

Technology stocks burn cash.

But most astute companies raise the capital well ahead of when it is needed and also tuck away more than expected at that time. There should be an element of surprise when new financial arrangements are unveiled.

Orion is now in a weak negotiating position and other shareholders have reason to feel aggrieved.

Smart tech bosses recognise when it is time to make room for someone to drive growth. Some also balance themselves by having co-founders who have complementary skills.

Take Bill Gates. In 1975, Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft which went on to become the world's largest PC software company. But in 2000 he stepped down as CEO, remaining as chairman and creating a new position of chief software architect for himself.

McCrae's pathway is different. His professional career started with a stint as a scientist. In 1993 he went on to found Orion Health with just four people.

It is now a major company. He has been in the driver's seat for a very long time but the confidence that once underpinned the stock has now diminished.

It's notable that Orion shares were valued at $5.70 but listed at $6.50. And in June 2016 they were still up at $5.31.

The Wynyard collapse did affect perceptions of tech stocks including Orion.

And there are similarities when it comes to the management of the respective companies; failure to book deals within expected timeframes with the resultant impact on cashflows and profitability, and failure to ensure the cash burn was funded ahead of when it becomes a public issue.

In this situation Orion chairman Andrew Ferrier will have to exercise some tact around the board table and in his dealings with McCrae.

The optimum outcome in my view would be to stabilise the company with new partners and shareholders, recapitalise it and ensure that is has a hard-driving CEO with a firm commitment to nailing contracts and ensuring revenue growth.

And to respectfully free up McCrae so he can once again work on the intellectual frontier.