Box ready to go again after proxy distractions

The cloud content management pioneer has the chance to grow once more.


“Look! We have come through!” For Box, the breakout hit in cloud content management and collaboration, the poetic words of DH Lawrence must resonate. If the terms “activist investor” and “proxy battle” still cause palpitations in the heart of CEO Aaron Levie then he can at least console himself that the nightmare of the company’s struggle with Starboard Value is, at least for now, behind him. The company can focus on the longer term and seek to become the dominant incumbent in its space.

That’s tough enough with the likes of Dropbox, Citrix, Microsoft and Google for company. For years now the company has appeared becalmed in the midcap sea and as I write this it has a valuation of $3.7bn. Respectable enough but fans of the company (and for that matter critics such as Starboard) see plenty of room for growth.

That expansion is likely to come largely from the enterprise where Box has long focused its attention. To gain a new view on its progress and prospects I recently spoke to incoming Box EMEA president and enterprise software veteran Sebastien Marotte.

Marotte joined Box in March this year after a career that has included spells at Hyperion, Oracle and, latterly, Google, where he led the search behemoth’s Google Cloud business.

“I’ve spent 10 years helping companies change the way they work,” Marotte tells me, adding that he was busy and content advising companies on digital transformation and “not looking for anything when Aaron called”.

The siren call that lured him was helping to oversee the “transition of the company from enterprise file sharing and synchronisation to building what’s next for the company: moving to become a cloud content platform”.

Marotte will bring a lot of valuable experience to Box, not least the network to access boardrooms that the Google name brings. But he says that the central point for customers is data.

“What came to me when thinking about this change was that data is king. Whether you’re in retail, financial services or transportation, you’re moving to become a data company and how to make content that’s relevant to building what’s next for the company. Everyone was focusing on [locating] content so everyone can access it and I thought ‘if you succeed in doing that it’s going to be a huge opportunity’.”

Indeed, it is.

“Google culture was very big and I remember when I moved from Oracle to Google it was like an earthquake for me to move from [an environment where it was] only about delivering your numbers and quotas to one where we can invest and build,” he recalls. “Everything was so transparent.”

He sees similarities with Box and its highly engaged, even evangelical, customers.

“People are really leveraging it,” he says. “Culture is important for productivity and its super-important when you meet customers to solve their business problems but also to learn from the way you are managing your brand and your business.”

Like many in cloud, Marotte says the pandemic has accelerated cloud commitments and he is keen to see rapid scaling of deployments, pointing to customers such as AstraZeneca, the Metropolitan Police in London, Zurich Insurance and Eurostar.

“It’s a personal comment but even five years ago I didn’t sense urgency in moving to cloud,” he says. “Now they realise if they don’t move fast they’re progressively going to get into trouble. Staying on-prem is not the shortest path to innovation and building a competitive advantage. If you don’t get there, you’re just going to disappear…

“The pandemic has definitely accelerated the collaboration platform in the cloud. We’re seeing more companies migrating into the cloud and it goes from collaboration and personal productivity to content management. You’ve seen some collaboration platforms like Office 365 and Teams really accelerating and we are definitely taking advantage of that at Box. A recent Okta survey said the average number of applications being used in an organisation is 175 so you need a platform that’s consolidating all this content.”

There are also opportunities to broaden the platform, especially in a world where processes are necessarily globally distributed and virtual. The acquisition of SignRequest gives Box an entrée into e-signatures, for example.

On a local level, Marotte, who is based in London, sees the chance to expand in EMEA and build the sort of breadth that Box already enjoys in the US and Japan. Faith that this is more than just channel expansion comes in the form of an R&D organisation in Poland. There’s also scope to “double-down” on industries that Box has prised open such as life sciences, healthcare, FSI, retail and CPG, he says.

The company is already nudging towards its 52-week high and the demand for new secure and collaborative ways of working in the cloud are in its favour. Freed from the distraction of Starboard, perhaps Box can go again and scale its own organisation to become a brighter star in the cloud firmament.