by John M. Covaleski

Novato, Calif. - In a major shakeup at Softline Software, two of the top three executives are out the door at the 18-month-old North American arm of South African-based Softline Ltd.

Steven Rostovsky, who had been president since Softline Software was created shortly after Softline Ltd. acquired Novato, Calif.-based accounting software developer AccountMate in late 2000, has been replaced by Murray Aston, chief executive of BusinessVision Management Systems. Softline bought BusinessVision in mid-2000.

Also, AccountMate founder Ben Tse,

who remained that company’s president after it ws acquired by Softline, has left.

Softline Ltd. said that Rostovsky, 38, left "to pursue objectives outside of Softline," and indicated that Aston may bolster the company’s expansion in the United States. Under Softline, AccountMate has added about 100 new resellers in

the past year, and BusinessVision has launched its own U.S. reseller recruitment effort. In addition, both companies’ product lines have also been enhanced.

Tse, 47, had fulfilled an 18-month contract that he had with Softline Ltd. to assist in the integration of his former company and BusinessVision, according

to an informed source. Tse, a native of China, will reportedly remain active with business interests he has in northern California and in Asia.

The executive shakeup is noteworthy to accountants, because BusinessVision’s and AccountMate’s reseller recruitment efforts are each reaching out to accounting professionals.

Rostovsky formerly led Datafaction, a developer of financial management software for wealthy individuals and their business managers, which Softline acquired in 1999. Datafaction’s 300 customers includes about 170 accounting firms.

In a sign that he was not a long-term player, Rostovsky had been spending most of his work time at Datafaction’s Los Angeles offices, even though Softline’s North American marketing and reseller recruitment efforts have been based several hundred miles away, here in Novato.

The top-level management changes coincide with a renewed commitment that Softline Ltd. has made to the accounting and payroll software market.

The South African concern has more than five million users worldwide and claims to be the leading accounting and payroll software vendor in South Africa, and the second largest in Canada.

In an announcement separate from the Rostovsky change, Softline Ltd. said that it was reducing its investment in SVI Solutions, a San Diego-based developer of enterprise-level retail management software, in order to concentrate on accounting and payroll operations "with a focus on continued growth of market share in South Africa, Australia, the U.S. and Canada."

Replacements for Tse at AccountMate and for Aston at BusinessVision have not been named. Datafaction, will continue to be led by its president Brian Kleinman, Softline Ltd. said.

Aston has been hailed by people inside and outside Softline. "Murray has a true entrepreneurial spirit," said David Dierke, BusinessVision channel manager. "Murray Aston seems to really care when he talks with people," noted Steve Yulga, an executive with accounting software rival Red Wing Business Systems.

Aston launched Toronto-based BusinessVision in 1987 and has overseen its product sales growth to some 12,000 installations, primarily in Canada. The line is widely recognized as one of Canada’s leading financial management applications targeted at midrange businesses, or the low-end of the middle market.

However, Aston was unsuccessful in an earlier attempt to expand BusinessVision to the United States. And he was part of Softline when the parent company ceased the U.S.-based marketing effort of its low-end accounting product, Pastel Software.

When Softline acquired BusinessVision in the summer of 2000, officials and Aston both said that they saw great opportunity to jointly market BusinessVision and the Pastel line. However, Softline ceased marketing Pastel in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2001.

Pastel is still marketed in more than 30 other countries and has some 100,000 users worldwide, according to Softline. Its other major technology holding is SyBiz Software, an Australian-based developer of middle-market accounting software that’s not actively marketed in North America.

At Softline Software’s helm in North America, Aston will oversee the ongoing efforts to enhance the product lines and build the sales channels of AccountMate and BusinessVision.

BusinessVision product upgrades in the past year include enabling the product to be customized for specific vertical industry needs, and the release of an e-commerce system that enables users to establish and integrate a Web store directly with the program’s accounting applications.

AccountMate’s product development includes plans to launch a higher-powered, three-tier enterprise version of its Visual AccountMate middle-market accounting software sometime this summer. While continuing to add resellers to its North American channel, AccountMate, under Softline, has also opened international sales offices in South Africa and Australia.

Its reseller growth has been pegged to VAM’s open source code, which allows resellers and users to customize the application. Many of its new resellers had been handling SBT, an open source code product line that is part of Accpac International.

BusinessVision’s United States channel growth plans include adding resellers and consultants in 13 market areas, where it has regional managers. Six of its regional managers had been regional directors for Pastel.

Softline Ltd. chief executive Ivan Epstein is hopeful that Aston is indeed the right person to continue the growth. "His cumulative knowledge of the accounting software mid-market, together with his experience in growing and maintaining a loyal, profit-generating partner channel, will be key in guiding Softline’s North American subsidiaries," Epstein said.

Epstein also praised the departing Rostovsky. "His efforts have set the stage for the next phase of Softline’s strategic push into North America," Epstein said.

BusinessVision’s CPA reseller recruitment under Rostovsky got a major boost earlier this year by adding the technology practice of Cornick, Garber & Sandler, a 75-person CPA firm in New York City.

Tse’s departure may create a personality void of sorts in AccountMate’s reseller channel. As president and founder, he was active with the company’s reseller channel, and many resellers seemed to think highly of him personally and professionally.

At the time of the sale, Tse said that he welcomed Softline’s ownership of AccountMate because he expected to remain autonomous in running the company. He also said that he expected Softline to provide new growth opportunities and additional capital for research and development.

AccountMate has expanded under Softline’s aegis.

In addition to the upcoming enterprise product and to opening sales offices in South Africa and Australia, in February Tse was said to be laying the groundwork to open an AccountMate sales office in mainland China. The company already has a development office there.

In recent months, Tse had been spending a lot of time in China working on that expansion plan.

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