A top Adobe Systems executive has resigned to take over the helm of the small Palo Alto online payroll company PayCycle. James Heeger, senior vice president of Adobe’s creative pro division (the largest of three divisions), will replace founder Ren� Lacerte as CEO. It’s yet another example of a valley company founder stepping aside to make way for a seasoned leader who can accelerate and manage the firm’s growth.

Lacerte will stay with the 50-person company as CFO and lead PayCycle’s finance and business development efforts.

Founded in 1999, the privately held PayCycle offers online payroll services for small businesses, everything from paychecks to W-2s. Its main competitors include ADP, Paychex and Intuit.

Heeger was president and CEO of Fotiva Inc., a photography software company acquired by Adobe in 2001. At Adobe, he headed the Creative Professional division, which developed flagship products such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign.

The move is something of a homecoming for Heeger. Like many of the top PayCycle execs, he’s a veteran of Intuit, where he spent several years as the CFO and senior vice president and general manager of the small business division.

“It reminds me of Intuit in the early days,” Heeger said of PayCycle. “It’s poised for dramatic growth. They’ve spent five years building a solid product. Now it’s all about customer acquisition.”

The company already has about 18,000 customers, double what it had a year ago. But Heeger sees a far bigger growth potential.

About 5.1 million U.S. businesses do payroll, he says, and 60 percent of them still do it by hand. His goal will be to convert them to PayCycle’s online system, which has recieved high marks from industry publications for its affordability and ease-of-use. As opposed to some competitors, PayCycle is geared for small businesses, he said.

“This could be a really big deal,” he said.

PayCycle’s raised about $21 million in funding so far, with investments by August Capital, Conning Capital Partners, Irwin Ventures, Total Technology Ventures, Crescent Ventures, Draper Richards, and Argus Capital.