Conway Designs PeopleSofts Renaissance

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2001-06-04
 
 
 

One morning, shortly before the launch of PeopleSoft 8 CRM, company CEO Craig Conway was getting ready for a day filled with meetings.

Carefully following the contours of his face with his razor, he heard two phrases from the hotel room TV that were enough to make a man in his position nick himself from excitement: "PeopleSoft" and "Strong Buy."

Conway managed to keep his hand smooth and steady, as he contemplated his fortune.

Much has changed in the two years since he took the reins at PeopleSoft from founder and longtime CEO David Duffield, when analysts were glum on PeopleSoft.

"Part of your success in this business is that you make a bet and it turns out to be a strong bet," Conway said. "It makes you feel great, but, to be honest, the first year I was with the company, things werent nearly as positive."

Thin, smiling, with a full head of dusty brown hair, Conway makes his tea with real tea leaves, and constantly reads the bottom line.

Conway came to PeopleSoft in May 1999 with an impeccable pedigree, including eight years at Oracle and the next six heading two start-ups, both of which he turned into successful companies.

"Larry [Ellison, Oracle CEO] came to the office in blue jeans, a black T-shirt and cowboy boots," Conway remembered. "But I wanted to run my own show and that wasnt going to happen at Oracle."

He learned many lessons at the software giant. "I took from Oracle a very high degree of competitiveness, accountability and intensity," Conway said. "But one thing I tried not to carry with me was the way it treats its customers."

Nothing could have prepared him for the crisis-that-wasnt in 1999: the year 2000. Software companies were hit hard when customers used purchasing funds to fill in their Y2K gaps. Then, highly respected founder Duffield retired to Lake Tahoe, Nev.; most of PeopleSofts management team, which had been in place for nine years, followed him out the door.

Even before Conway was officially named CEO in September 1999, he had decided the company needed to head in a new direction. He shifted spending to research and development, betting the companys future on redesigning every application for the Internet, which has become the foundation for PeopleSoft 8.

Since then the stock has more than doubled, moving into the $40s.

"The new architecture has become the basis for PeopleSofts renaissance," Conway says. "What the world has shown over and over again is that if there are compelling advantages to a new technology, its not a question of if adoption will occur, but when."

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