Staff left wondering after OpenEye CEO goes AWOL

Start-up entrepreneur of the year takes off as company runs into trouble

Gareth Croy, the chief executive of the 2007 start-up of the year, OpenEye Displays, has disappeared, leaving company staff wondering about their futures.

“We don’t know where he is,” says one staff member, who asked not to be named. “We are not happy. It is a really hard situation, but we are trying to do as much as we can.”

Earlier this year, the Icehouse-based company had 21 staff, of which 11 were based in Auckland. Today, there are only three staff left.

Croy sent an email to the staff last week, but didn’t reveal his whereabouts.

Croy has had a successful career as a young entrepreneur. OpenEye Displays, a developer of digital display technology, won two awards at the Gen-i New Zealand Incubator Awards in March. The company won the start-up of the year category and Croy won the start-up entrepreneur award.

In an interview with Computerworld at the time, Croy was getting ready to take OpenEye to the global market. He said he was about to relocate to the northern hemisphere, to spend his time between New York and London, to drive business development in those areas. According to the staff, that move never happened, but they suspect that is where Croy is now, they say.

Computerworld called Croy’s mobile phone but got the message that the voicemail service was unavailable.

Andrew Hamilton, chief executive of the Icehouse, says he is in “reasonably regular” contact with Croy. Croy was in New Zealand two weeks ago, Hamilton says. “I have been aware of the challenges the business has been under,” he says.

He says there are many companies that run into trouble and are unable to meet their payroll, but in this particular case the “speed wobbles” are possibly a bit bigger than usual.

“I know that Gareth is trying to deal with the issues and be a responsible business person,” says Hamilton.

The Icehouse is trying to assist the struggling company, he says.

“We support any company that has been associated with us, not just through the good times, but the hard times as well.”

“This highlights to me what the challenges and risks these early stage companies have,” he says.

Hamilton was reluctant to answer questions about the nature of the company’s issues.

“Sometimes the growth gets ahead of the capability of the business to support that,” he says. In March, Croy said OpenEye’s revenue increased five-fold in 2006.

OpenEye New Zealand was set up in 2002 by two entrepreneurs, John McCarthy and technology innovator Craig Meek. Meek sold his part of the business two years ago.

(Update: John McCarthy told Computerworld via email that the reins of OpenEye were handed to Croy in August 2005, at which time McCarthy left the company, resigned as a director and retained a small parcel of shares.)

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