Will Steven stay or will he go?

“RIGHTLY or wrongly, you have to congratulate the guy for having a vision and prosecuting it very competitively. Not many people can do that.”

That is Steven Goh’s assessment of former cross-town rival Tim Moore, who resigned last month as Hartleys’ CEO.

Many observers would apply the same words to Mr Goh, a WA Business News 40under40 winner, who could soon be vacating the CEO’s desk at Sanford.

That would certainly be the case if Melbourne-based IWL, a supplier of financial planning software systems, succeeds with its takeover offer for Sanford.

IWL anounced last month that its CEO Otto Buttula would run the merged company while Mr Goh “would be offered a mutually agreed consulting position with a focus on stockbroking technologies”.

Sanford directors, who welcomed IWL as a 19.9 per cent shareholder and invited Mr Buttula onto the Sanford board, have not yet made a recommendation on the offer.

Even if IWL does not succeed with its takeover, Mr Goh’s future is far from clear.

Sanford chairman Clive Hall announced prior to the IWL takeover offer that the board would “undertake a strategic review of the role of the CEO”.

Mr Goh is diplomatic when commenting on his own future, saying that the company would be put ahead of his personal ambitions.

“I won’t stand in the way of anything that is good for share-holders,” he said.

Mr Goh said he also believes he has learnt from experience, and is no longer the “bull-headed, thick of skin” person who attracted the ire of many staff and shareholders.

“The person I am now is not the person I was one year ago, or a year before that,” he said.

“I have a very strong recognition that some founder-drivers grow with their business and some don’t.

“We’ve adapted to the changing world. I like to think that I have grown along the way.”

Mr Goh notes that he was only 28 years of age when he co-founded Sanford in 1996.

Since then the company has rack-ed up numerous technical and operational achievements – and hefty financial losses.

Its core online broking service has 45,000 clients and processes 1,000 contract notes per day, more than any other broker in WA except Hartleys.

It provides online broking services to National Australia Bank and BankWest, which originally had used Hartleys’ technology arm JDV.

Mr Goh believes the area with greatest potential is Sanford’s Virtual Broker service, which is used by 145 accounting and financial planning groups. One of the newest Virtual Broker clients is Entrust, established by former Hartleys’ dealer Graeme Yukich.

Mr Goh’s aim is to double the number of advisers using Virtual Broker to 2,500.

Despite major cost cutting, which has reduced staff numbers from a peak of 320 to about 120, Sanford continues to invest in technology development.

It has developed a back-office online trading and settlement platform called Plato II, which is being marketed to full-service broking firms.

Sanford also has a special project, known as Project Nile, that is working on a front office system to compete with the IRESS and Bloomberg systems.

Commenting on the boardroom split late last year, Mr Goh said Sanford originally had a family feel, with early investors actively involved in decision making.

“We involved shareholders in decisions that should have been taken at board level,” he said.

Changing that approach meant that early investors in the company had been “disenfranchised”.

The changes implemented by Mr Goh have taken Sanford to a point where it is cash flow positive, although it is still incurring bottom-line losses.

The next one to two months will determine if Sanford continues as an independent company with Mr Goh at the helm, or if it is merged into IWL.

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