Tod Nielsen, CEO at Borland Software, started his role as head of the Cupertino, Calif., company at the Borland Developer Conference in San Francisco in November. Following his keynote address at the event, Nielsen invited eWEEK in for his first press interview as Borlands CEO. Nielsen told eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft that he is the man to bring Borland back to a leadership position in the software development tools space.
Can you think of a job more suited to you than this one?
This is a great job for me. When you look at my career and what Ive done, this is a natural perfect fit, and Im super-excited. When I heard about the opportunity, I was like, “Wow, that could be really, really fun.” And the fact it all happened is great. Ive been training my whole career for this job.
What do you think is going to be your greatest challenge?
The one thing thats daunting to me is, when you look at our industry, the number of companies with 10 to 20 years of history … the number of companies that have been superstars and have kind of faded and then gone back to be superstars again—I cant think of very many. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Apple [Computer] right now. So, its a task thats not easy to do, but I believe I can do it. Ive been trained for this job.
So, Day One, what are your goals here?
I think everybody still has in our industry a soft place in their heart for Borland. They want Borland to win. When you say “Borland,” theres a positive association. But whats been lacking the last number of years is [that] people arent really clear [on] what were doing. And I think one of the things weve got to do very quickly is to clearly articulate, “Heres what were about: Were about the software development process and adding business value there.”
We have to make it clear to employees and go on the road to let folks in the industry and our customers and partners know [that] this is what were about and where were taking this going forward.
Then there are always the details of me meeting the employees—all the teams—and figuring out where we are and making assessments.
But its fun to have a company thats got a rich 21-year history and to do the work to take it to the next level.
How do you think your experience in the industry has prepped you for this job?
Well, I think that—depending on who the employee or the customer is—I can probably go back on Borlands history as far as they can. One of the things I said this morning is, “I was at the very first Borland Developer Conference. It was in Monterey, [Calif.,] in 1990.” And David Intersimone [Borlands longest-term employee] said, “Well, I was at the first Borland Developer Conference, in San Francisco, in 1991.” And I went up and said, “Actually, 1990 was when the first conference was.” So, because I have the history and the connection, I can talk with folks about where weve been, what were about, etc.
When you look at our mission, which is about delivering business value through successful software projects, its kind of what the company has been about from the beginning. I mean the Turbo products, the productivity boosts, supporting the different platforms in the heterogeneous environment [and] now all the stuff around Software Delivery Optimization—its what Borlands about. So, we havent really moved, if you will, but weve expanded our focus in this space.
As you assess what youve got in hand, what do you think are your core strengths?
As far as the company goes, we have the core brand; we have an incredible, loyal customer base thats been with us and wants us to win. I think our product line is strong, especially with the acquisitions weve made.
When I look at the employee base and the folks on the team Ive met, weve got people who are willing to change and break out. When you run into some companies that have been around a while, you have people who say, “Dont rock the boat.” Everybody here says, “Go, drive, make changes, aspire, expand the portfolio and deliver value.” And I think thats a huge asset.
Thats the old Borland that I remember. It had a lot of drive and a lot of heart to take on Microsoft. But in terms of products, what stands out to you?
Im new enough that I dont want to start talking and leave any product out. But when I look at whats happening in Delphi and C++ and C# Builder and that stuff, its core, solid technology.
One of the moves Im excited about is the embracing of Eclipse and some of the other platforms. Were saying, “Its OK if you want to develop in Visual Studio because were going to enhance that experience with our interoperability there.”
Do you agree with the decision to go with Eclipse? Would you have made it?
I think it is important for us to be the company that supports software development. And we want to be independent, heterogeneous … so whatever people choose, we want to support [it]. If they want to choose Microsoft, great; if they want to choose Eclipse and open source, great. Whatever the environment, the platform, we want to be there to make them successful.
Well, JBuilder has been so successful, and the impact that Eclipse has had on it and that Eclipse will continue to have on it is big. What do you see coming from that?
I think there are transition life cycles in any kind of product line. Business models change or things happen. And, if you sit back and just cry over your spilled milk, youre going to be toast.
The thing Im excited about [with] the management team here is [that] they havent sat back and cried. They said, “Were going to take things to the next level with Application Lifecycle Management and Software Delivery Optimization.” And the JBuilder/Eclipse world is evolving, and were going to support those folks that want to use us.
One of your personal strengths has been community building, with the whole MSDN [Microsoft Developer Network] thing. And Borland always had a strong developer community. Have you looked at how you might reinvigorate the community?
Well, I think spending time with them and getting the “mojo” going is big. But another thing thats important is expanding it beyond our traditional developer base into architects [and] business analysts and building the community more broadly—so we can get the eclectic set of folks that are all involved in this life cycle. We want to support the broader set of that community.
Well, the thing is, the enterprise tools space is not their heritage, and they face a challenge there in attacking this market. How different is the enterprise market for tools?
I never realized, because I was obviously on that side of the fence. I thought in my last few years there [at Microsoft], when I was running the platform group, that Id become an enterprise guy because we could scale SQL Server to a billion transactions; or whatever our pitch was at the time. And it wasnt until I got out that I realized that this enterprise games a little bit different than I imagined.
I think Microsoft will learn as they continue to bet in this space that you cant just take the same cookie-cutter success and go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.
Do you remember Ashton-Tate? They had the guy who created Query by Example, and it was this thing that took off. Then he came up with the next epiphany, Query by Form; then Query by Report. And it was basically the same model. But the rest of it fell apart. It was the case of having a different problem and needing a different solution. I think Microsoft does a good job at being persistent and cranking, but I think the enterprise isnt necessarily going to take the first thing they have to offer.
Who or what do you see as your primary competition?
One thing Ive got to do is get up to speed on the real specifics that are going on in this marketplace. There are a lot of [partial] players weve got to look at and decide how we go up against them, or partner with them, or whatever. In the long term, its going to be Microsoft and IBM as competitors. Mercury [Interactive] is a competitor to some extent, though I think theyve taken a step toward the sidelines for a little bit.
What about open source?
My belief is [that] open source is something that everybodys initial reaction [to] was fear. But I think the best way to deal with any issue, especially open source, is to take it head-on and say, “We want to work with you and help you be successful.” Because, at the end of the day, if software development is successful, were successful. If you try to say, “Were against this kind of software development,” youre just setting yourself up for failure.
Are you here to prepare the company for sale?
Im here to make Borland win. I want Borland to win. I think I am the right guy to make Borland win. And were going to do everything we can to make that happen.
Taking Borland to the next level, to be leaders in the Software Delivery Optimization category … showing market success, customer adoption, revenue growth and all the metrics that quantify success. Im not here to say, “Lets sell the company.”
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