Sigfox Sheds More Senior Staff, Including North America CEO

The exodus of senior managers from Sigfox continues, with the CEO of its North American business among the latest to leave.

Iain Morris, International Editor

January 8, 2018

9 Min Read
Sigfox Sheds More Senior Staff, Including North America CEO

Sigfox appears to be hemorrhaging top-level staff. The French Internet of Things (IoT) specialist, which has already seen an exodus of managers in recent months, is losing even more senior executives, including the CEO of the company's North American business, Light Reading has learned from sources with knowledge of the matter.

Allen Proithis, who has led Sigfox's high-profile operation in North America since 2015, left the company this month, while spectrum manager Thomas Schmidt is also no longer at the firm, sources say.

There has also been speculation about the employment status of Rodolphe Baronnet-Fruges, the executive vice president of operators, who is currently understood to be on sick leave. With responsibility for Sigfox's global network deployment, Baronnet-Fruges is one of Sigfox's key figures.

A spokesperson for Sigfox vehemently rejected any speculation about Baronnet-Fruges as "false," insisting the executive's position at the company was not in doubt. He declined to make any comment about Proithis and Schmidt.

Further executive departures, if confirmed, would add to the pressure on the French technology champion, whose technology provides data connectivity for smart meters and other industrial monitoring devices, amid reports of clashes between management figures and growing business challenges. (See Sigfox Said to Face Customer Backlash.)

Figure 1: Bust-Up Ludovic Le Moan, CEO and co-founder of Sigfox, is said to have clashed with some senior executives over company strategy. Ludovic Le Moan, CEO and co-founder of Sigfox, is said to have clashed with some senior executives over company strategy.

Light Reading was unable to confirm the departures directly with the executives, who did not respond to our approaches. But the information comes partly from two sources whose previous revelations about staff upheaval have proven accurate.

Between March and November, Sigfox saw the departure of some of its most senior figures, including: Xavier Drilhon, the deputy CEO; Thierry Siminger, the Middle East and Africa president; Remy Lorrain, vice president of operations and networks; Stuart Lodge, vice president of global sales; and Thomas Nicholls, the head of communications. (See Sigfox in Peril as Senior Execs Exit – Sources.)

Jerome Burriez, who calls himself Sigfox's chief information officer on his LinkedIn page, left the company in December, according to sources. Burriez did not respond to an enquiry about his employment status. Sigfox declined to comment on his whereabouts but said his correct job title is or was information system director, and not chief information officer. (See Sigfox CIO Said to Be Latest Senior Exec to Depart.)

However, an internal company presentation recently obtained by Light Reading lists him as one of 13 "key people" at Sigfox under "new internal governance" and identifies him as chief information officer.

Baronnet-Fruges, Lorrain and Nicholls are also on that list, as is Allison Junoy, Sigfox's group general counsel, who left Sigfox in October, about 14 months after joining the company, she confirmed in a LinkedIn message. Junoy did not respond to a follow-up question enquiring about the circumstances of her departure.

Another senior manager whose role appears to have changed in recent months is Virginie Heringer Pashaus, who joined Sigfox as executive vice president of human resources in June 2015. Heringer Pashaus is currently working for Sigfox in a "coaching" capacity only, according to one source.

While Sigfox's spokesperson told Light Reading that Heringer Pashaus remained a company employee, Sigfox began advertising for a human resources director in November last year. Heringer Pashaus, who continues to identify herself as executive vice president of human resources on her LinkedIn page, did not respond when asked to confirm her employment status.

Next page: Flood of departures

Flood of departures
The flood of executive departures appears to have begun with a disagreement in early 2016 between Drilhon and Ludovic Le Moan, Sigfox's co-founder and CEO, on company strategy. Drilhon, who quit Sigfox in March last year, subsequently told Light Reading he had "different views from the founders on the way to organize the company," declining to comment further for "professional" reasons.

While the source of the disagreement is unclear, Sigfox has faced heavy criticism on both the commercial and technology fronts in the last two years, as well as a growing challenge from rival connectivity systems, including LoRa, NB-IoT and LTE-M.

Critics say the company has tried to expand into new geographical and industry markets too quickly and risks burning through its remaining funds this year, with staff numbers soaring from fewer than 200 employees about two years ago to more than 370 in late 2017, according to one of Light Reading's sources and data from LinkedIn.

Sigfox claimed to have raised about €150 million ($180 million) during its last funding round in late 2016 but had been aiming for the much larger sum of €500 million ($600 million), according to reports in the mainstream French press early that year. Sources also say that Sigfox did not even bag as much as €150 million ($180 million), with that figure apparently linked to performance targets it has struggled to hit. (See Sigfox Defies Critics to Raise €150M in Funding.)

Sigfox's sales target for 2017 was €60 million ($72 million), double its revenues in 2016, but the company seemed likely to fall short of this figure, according to one source. However, in a pre-Christmas interview with French newspaper Les Echos, Le Moan insisted he would hit the €60 million ($72 million) target and said he was aiming to make Sigfox profitable in the fourth quarter of 2018.

As a privately owned company, Sigfox does not publish details of its earnings, although it is due to update its investors on last year's financial performance during a meeting in Paris at the end of this month, Light Reading has learned.

Despite its insistence that all is well financially, long-touted plans for an initial public offering (IPO) have been delayed more than once. Until the final weeks of 2017, Sigfox was reported to be looking at an IPO this year, but Le Moan is now aiming for one in mid-2019, according to Les Echos.

In the meantime, Sigfox's revenue-sharing arrangements remain controversial. Besides building and operating its own networks, Sigfox licenses its proprietary technology to network partners in many countries, demanding a big chunk of their service revenues in exchange. Its cut is as much as 40%, according to a Light Reading story from late 2014. (See Sigfox Plans Global IoT Network.)

Whether or not these arrangements have been a turnoff for some organizations, Sigfox has failed to attract many of the world's major operators as network partners. Although Spain's Telefónica and European cable group Altice have signed agreements with it, neither has indicated it is making active use of Sigfox technology. By contrast, a number of leading operators have drawn attention to their commercial deployments of the rival LoRa system, including France's Orange (NYSE: FTE), South Korea's SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), KPN Mobile of the Netherlands and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) in the US.

Both Orange and SK Telecom claim to have built nationwide LoRa networks in their respective national markets and have also made investments in the LTE-M standard developed by the cellular industry.

Want to know more about the Internet of Things? Check out our dedicated IoT content channel here on Light Reading.

Relying on unlicensed spectrum, Sigfox and LoRa took shape several years ago in the absence of a cellular technology that could economically provide connectivity for devices transmitting very small amounts of data. With their "low power, wide area" (LPWA) capabilities, they filled a gap that developers of 2G, 3G and 4G networks had largely ignored. In future, they could potentially be used to connect billions of everyday objects to the Internet.

But in the last two years the cellular industry has hit back with LTE-M and NB-IoT, amendments to the 4G standard that aim to replicate the LPWA characteristics of Sigfox and LoRa.

While Sigfox continues to enjoy a major cost advantage over those cellular rivals, and expects to maintain this for many years, its critics have argued that its proprietary technology will never be able to hold off a mainstream cellular standard in the long run. "If you look back at the history of wireless communications, there aren't any successful proprietary technologies," said William Webb, the CEO of the Weightless Special Interest Group (SIG), during a previous conversation with Light Reading. (See Vodafone to 'Crush' LoRa, Sigfox With NB-IoT and Weightless Aims to Exert Gravitational IoT Pull.)

The Weightless SIG is developing another LPWA technology it claims will be genuinely "open." Webb also founded Neul, a UK-based IoT company that was acquired by China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in 2014.

Although Sigfox makes its technology freely available to chipmakers, it has a tight grip on its technology ecosystem, extracting hefty licensing payments from its service providers.

Next page: Sick fox?

Sick fox?
Sigfox previously told Light Reading that it did not want to comment extensively on reports of executive departures. Answering questions about the management upheaval reported by Light Reading In November 2017, Le Moan told Les Echos that "all the departures were made on the initiative of Sigfox, and the vacant positions were filled."

Light Reading understands that much of the management responsibility has now fallen to Franck Siegel, who joined Sigfox from South African IT company Dimension Data in October last year. Sigfox describes him as head of operations, but Siegel's LinkedIn page says his duties cover human resources, marketing, engineering, operations, IT and communications.

Another senior executive who joined last year is Raouti Chehih. Formerly president of a business park in Lille called EuraTechnologies, Chehih became Sigfox's chief adoption officer in June.

Whether executives resigned or were sacked, the departure of so many over a relatively short period of time hints at a bust-up between senior figures and mounting frustration about strategy and progress.

Former Middle East and Africa President Thierry Siminger, who quit Sigfox in May last year, told Light Reading that he left "on a major disagreement with the top management on the company strategy." Like Drilhon, he declined to comment further for "ethical" reasons. (See Sigfox MEA President Hits the Road, Jacques.)

Lorrain, Lodge and Nicholls did not respond to Light Reading's approaches but all have flagged a change in employment status on their LinkedIn pages.

Proithis has looked especially vulnerable as head of the North American operation. Sigfox appears to have made little commercial progress in the US even though some of that country's biggest network operators have thrown their weight behind LoRa, LTE-M and NB-IoT. Sigfox had apparently hoped to cover more than 100 US cities by the end of 2016, but its latest coverage map shows that its technology remains unavailable across most of the country.

In November, a spokesperson for Sigfox said the company had launched networks in 36 countries in total, although only 17 of these have been "fully covered."

— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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