Online Resources Corp.'s newest chief executive said the online banking and bill-pay vendor will become a more focused company under his leadership.
Joseph L. Cowan described himself as an outsider with fresh ideas — his background is in software, not financial services — and he said this track record makes him just different enough to revive the Chantilly, Va., company he was hired in June to lead.
"I've got somewhat of a little different perspective in terms of looking at this market," Cowan said in an interview Friday. "I'm a calculated entrepreneur, a calculated risk-taker. … I'm willing to do things differently, but I do it in a calculated way with a game plan."
Ultimately, he said, the board decided it preferred this approach to turning over the reins to another industry insider.
"What I will do is try to draw out the people inside the company and get them to think outside the boxes that they put themselves into … ; people who have been in the industry all their lives tend to put themselves in a box and think a certain way," he said. "What I tend to do is open up those boxes."
Cowan came on as the company's permanent successor to Matthew P. Lawlor, Online Resources' founder. Lawlor retired last year after losing a proxy battle with the hedge fund Tennenbaum Capital Partners LLC, which put three people on Online Resources' board.
Since Lawlor's departure, Online Resources has had two interim CEOs, including its current chairman, John Dorman, before hiring Cowan.
The new chief executive officer said he is on friendlier terms with the board than Lawlor was, and that he views the board as a resource.
"I don't think Matt really understood the private-equity world," he said, "and I understand people like Tennenbaum … it helps me know how to engage and work with the board."
On a conference call Thursday to discuss Online Resources' second-quarter earnings, Cowan explained the process he has initiated. He is leading a three- to five-month study to assess the company's strengths and weaknesses and determine how best to allocate funds to promote its strengths and shore up its weak areas.
He expects to be able to discuss the specifics of this plan in the fourth quarter, Cowan said. Within six months, it should be clear whether the plan is delivering; Cowan said that he plans to remain CEO beyond this point to guide the company to its next step.
Online Resources' revenue for the second quarter declined 3.7%, to $36.4 million, from the same period a year earlier. Its net loss narrowed to $1.3 million, from $1.7 million a year earlier.
Cowan described this as good performance but said much room remains for improvement.
Already, he said, it is clear that the company should invest more in sales and marketing to improve the visibility of its products. He also praised the company's work force.
"Online Resources' staff is, without question, a core strength of the company," he told analysts.
He also stressed that he does not see Online Resources as being hopelessly troubled.
"This is not your classic turnaround situation," he told analysts. "This is not a dire financial situation by any means."
Cowan said that part of his approach will be to give Online Resources a greater focus on its strengths than it has had in the past.
"One of the things that kills a lot of companies is, they say, 'Oh, I can go do A, B, C, D and E,' and you know what? Maybe they're only strong in A and B, and that's where they ought to focus," he said in the interview. "Any growth is good, but … you really want to create the real value."
John Kraft, an analyst at the investment company D.A. Davidson & Co. in Great Falls, Mont., said that this mind-set is a fundamental difference between Cowan and Lawlor.
"Matt Lawlor was really, really gifted at the longer-term view," he said. "He's a hard-working guy who wants to do a lot. That's also, I think, part of what they're trying to change — they were trying to do too much and spreading themselves too thin. … Cowan's goal is going to be to really scale things back."
The leadership change gave Online Resources "an excuse to start over," Kraft said. Whether Cowan is the right person to manage this remains to be seen.
"He's been there for eight weeks or so … ; it's a bit early to give him a blessing or to critique him too much," Kraft said.