In previous columns, Ive expressed my admiration for PeopleSoft as one of the “good guys.” So while it pains me to say its over for PeopleSoft, it appears that Oracles relentlessness seems to have paid off. With CEO Craig Conway gone, Founder and Chairman Dave Duffield and the PeopleSoft board are now positioned to sue for peace.
Conway was widely seen as the most rabid Oracle-hater at the company, which makes sense for an ex-Oracle exec dedicated to building a very different kind of software company. He succeeded in building what in many ways was a stellar company and no doubt, he will make a great CEO for someone else.
The Friday firing seems to signal that the company is resigned to its fate and trying to maximize value while it can.
Conways task of fending off Oracle and running a company at the same time proved too much for him. The longer the Oracle siege ran on, the less the company was worth. Losing $2 billion in shareholder value isnt the worst thing a CEO can do, but hed better have a plan to get it back. Time, clearly, was not Craig Conways friend.
However, my bet is that Conways departure wasnt as unfriendly as it might seem. Firing sounds like too strong a word, though it suggests that Conway had a chance to resign and didnt take it. There is also the suggestion in with a firing that PeopleSoft management is now ready to deal, something Conway was unlikely to ever support.
Contrary to the opinion of some analysts, I dont see how Conways firing looks like an attempt by PeopleSoft to improve its sagging relationship with customers. It is hard to imagine that PeopleSoft customers, many of whom had to take a pass on Oracle, will be happy with a buy-out. The consensus has been that PeopleSofts product line will be absorbed by Oracle and subsequently disappear.
By surrendering now, perhaps Duffield will be able to extract some promises from Oracle that will benefit customers after the merger takes place.
At the same time, theres the issue of what will become of PeopleSoft employees and that cant be an insignificant factor to Duffield. Again, surrendering while the company still has some negotiating room ought to help.
As someone who believes a good day for Larry Ellison is usually a dark one for someone else, Im saddened by the course of events. Like Conway, I believed there was a place in the world for a decent company most people liked. That doing the right thing ought to be enough. It looks like Craig and I were both wrong.