Senior execs Forsyth, Frasca and Lemieux leaving Shopify

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Three of Shopify’s highest-ranking executives are leaving the Ottawa-based e-commerce giant, OBJ has learned.

Chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth, chief legal officer Joe Frasca and chief technology officer Jean-Michel Lemieux are expected to end their lengthy tenures with the company in June.

Shopify co-founder and CEO Tobi Lütke broke the news to employees in an email on Wednesday morning. 

“Each one of them has their individual reasons but what was unanimous with all three was that this was the best for them and the best for Shopify,” Lütke said in the announcement obtained by OBJ.

“Each of them has completed 2-3 tours of duty in their careers at Shopify and have achieved incredible things that will live on as their legacy.”

None of the departing executives immediately responded to requests for comment.

Most valuable publicly traded firm

The departures will leave a significant gap in Shopify’s C-suite as the Ottawa firm ​– which surpassed RBC last year to become Canada’s most valuable publicly traded company ​– continues to stake its claim as a global e-commerce software leader.

Forsyth, one of Shopify’s longest-serving executives, was the fledgling startup’s 22nd employee when she was hired in May 2010 as director of human resources. 

An OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient in 2015, Forsyth was promoted to her current position two years ago. As Shopify’s HR boss, she’s helped direct a mammoth hiring effort that has seen the company grow from a couple of dozen employees in Ottawa to more than 7,000 workers worldwide during her tenure. 

The Carleton University business graduate recently made headlines as part of a group of Shopify execs who launched Backbone Angels, a new fund aimed at financing startups helmed by women and non-binary founders.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday afternoon, Forsyth called her 11-year run at Shopify "an adventure of a lifetime," adding she plans to focus on building Backbone Angels "while looking to join some epic boards and overall find new opportunities to become the teacher & student."

Lütke offered high praise for his longtime C-suite partner in his memo to employees. 

“All of my earliest and fondest memories of Shopify involve Brit, including taking the company public together.”

“All of my earliest and fondest memories of Shopify involve Brit, including taking the company public together,” Lütke wrote. “The legacy Brit leaves behind is a world class culture and team that has evolved as we have scaled and now as we go digital.” 

Frasca was the company’s first lawyer when he was hired in May 2014. A graduate of Boston University’s School of Law, he joined Shopify after serving as senior corporate counsel at EMC Corp., now known as Dell EMC.

Lütke lauded Frasca for helping guide the company through its successful IPO in 2015 and building a “strong legal culture” at Shopify.

“We ask a lot from our lawyers and under Joe’s leadership, they were always there to ensure Shopify could maintain our speed and our level of ambition,” the CEO wrote.

A computer science graduate of the University of Ottawa, Lemieux started with Shopify as senior vice-president of engineering in 2015 after stints at HP and IBM in Ottawa and four years as VP of engineering with Australian software firm Atlassian. He was promoted to CTO in February 2019.

Diversified product offerings

Lemieux is credited as a driving force behind Shopify’s effort to diversify its product offerings well beyond building and maintaining online storefronts for e-commerce merchants. 

Under his watch, the company has developed a software suite that includes mobile shopping apps, point-of-sale platforms and financial services products that allow merchants to pay bills and track expenses on the Shopify platform. A team of 54 developers when Lemieux began his tenure at the firm has now grown into a global engineering force numbering in the thousands.

“Great leaders build great teams and our engineering organization is the strongest it has ever been for the future,” Lütke said. 

Shopify officials told OBJ the company has already begun searching for replacements for the three executives but had no timeline for filling the positions. Cathy Polinsky – who joined Shopify as VP of engineering in January after a 25-year career with various tech giants, including Amazon and Salesforce – and VP of core engineering Delaney Manders will assume Lemieux’s duties until a new CTO is hired.

“We have a phenomenally strong bench of leaders who will now step up into larger roles,” Lütke told Shopify employees in the email. “The brightest people in the world are lining up to work at Shopify and those that are joining us every day are incredible.”

Forsyth, Frasca and Lemieux aren’t the only high-profile Shopify executives to move on from the company in the past few months. 

Former chief product officer Craig Miller departed the firm in early October. Lütke added the role to his existing duties and Harley Finkelstein shifted from chief operating officer to president to help Lütke focus on Shopify’s growth.

The latest C-suite shakeup comes at a time of unprecedented growth for Shopify, which has seen its revenues and stock price soar over the past year amid a pandemic-fuelled online shopping boom. 

The company’s fourth-quarter revenues nearly doubled compared with a year earlier as Shopify reported a profit of US$123.9 million for the last three months of 2020, beating analysts’ expectations. The firm’s stock was trading at more than $1,527 on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday afternoon, up 120 per cent from 12 months ago.

Still, many observers believe it could become harder for Shopify to rack up new merchants and ensure pandemic gains aren't erased once consumers have the ability to head back to brick-and-mortar stores.

Calling 2020 “an exceptional year of growth and revenue” due to the unprecedented explosion of e-commerce during the pandemic, chief financial officer Amy Shapero said earlier this year it’s unlikely the company can repeat that success in 2021 as online shopping expands at a “more normalized” pace.