In what could be a major step toward taking the company he founded in 1999 public, Pete Coad gave up his role as chief executive officer of TogetherSoft on Thursday.

With several other executives already hired who have taken companies public, Coad said he was turning over daily control to John R. “Beau” Vrolyk on an interim basis. Vrolyk just recently was appointed to TogetherSoft’s board.

A company official said Coad’s decision to become chief strategy officer and to remain chairman of the board was his. Coad (pronounced “code”) was out of the country when the announcement was made and was not available for comment. But he did release a statement.

“For TogetherSoft to continue its extraordinary growth, I decided that my role should be focused on the future and that additional management expertise needed to be added,” Coad said. “As chairman, founder and chief strategy officer, I am able to do what I enjoy most … lead strategically rather than mechanically, and directly affect the long-range business strategy and product initiatives for the company.”

The dour economy of 2001 apparently had little impact on TogetherSoft. The company reported an 80 percent increase in sales, according to Grace Ueng, vice president of marketing. The company reported sales of $26 million in 2000, so an 80 percent increase would push sales to nearly $47 million.

The company’s head count also has exploded, soaring to 425 in offices spread across 11 different countries. TogetherSoft had 275 in 2000.

Vrolyk is a 30-year business veteran and most recently, former president and CEO of 3ware, an IP storage vendor in Mountain View, Calif. As interim CEO of TogetherSoft, Vrolyk, who still lives in California, will commute to Raleigh on a weekly basis.

Because of this distance factor, Ueng said it was not practical for Vrolyk to be the long-term CEO. But, Ueng pointed out, “We feel we’re in good hands in the interim with Beau (Vrolyk) flying here every week.” Once a new CEO is found, she said, Vrolyk will step down and remain a member of the board.

IPO sometime this year?

While no definitive date or timeline has been set, Ueng said TogetherSoft is being courted by several investment banks. She said if the market turns around and the company continues its progress, TogetherSoft likely would have an IPO by year’s end.

“With the market declining, it’s not entirely our decision,” Ueng said. “There is a much shorter list now of companies that have demonstrable financial performances (to go public), and we’re on that short list.”

Thinking about going public is nothing new for TogetherSoft, which makes tools for software developers. Last March, the three-year-old company landed a $20 million investment from TA Associates, a venture capital firm based in Boston, but with offices in Pennsylvania and California, as well.

Recent hirings at TogetherSoft also point to an IPO. John Sherbin, who joined the company last October as CFO, has 25 years of experience with manufacturing and software firms and has led two middle-market IPOs. Donald Fluken, appointed COO in November, has led seven IPOs, including Levi Strauss.

“We really want to be a large company, impacting software developers and influence the way they work,” said Ueng, who joined TogetherSoft at the beginning of the year. “We have to bring on a seasoned and professional management team to reach the goals and vision of Pete (Coad).”

TogetherSoft’s ‘Coad’ for success

In his new role, Coad will focus on long-range projects and strategy for TogetherSoft as opposed to the day-to-day operations of the 425-person company located on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus.

“He’ll focus more long term, which is what he’s best at … looking at what developers might be needing down the road,” Ueng said. “He’s really visionary, which is why he’s built this company to what it is now.”

Coad also will dedicate more time to one-on-one interaction with TogetherSoft customers, actively participate in industry events and serve as executive editor for a new line of Prentice Hall books called The Coad Series.

The books will target software developers, business people and IT decision makers with topics such as building better software faster, object modeling, extreme software and feature-driven development. Prentice Hall has already published seven other books of Coad’s.

If TogetherSoft can continue its recent growth and success, customers won’t have anything to complain about. The company’s Together Enterprise 3.2 was named “Most Innovative Java Product” in 2000 in Java Pro Readers’ Choice Awards.

And in “Judging Java,” a special project of Java Pro and DevX.com, Editor-in-Chief Lori Piquet wrote, “While hardly a new company, TogetherSoft seems to be gaining the kind of critical mass that could propel it into the role of a potential David. Their ControlCenter is winning fans among both customers and analysts. Mark Driver, senior software analyst for Gartner, made a point during a briefing — of mentioning his surprise at hearing TogetherSoft mentioned so often as a valued platform among end-users that he speaks to.”