Agendas can be altered to fit the circumstance, but long-term strategies should be just that: long term. And ethics are not pliable but need to be stated and adhered to regardless of events. Two recent episodes demonstrate why these principles should be followed.
The first example is the ouster of Craig Conway from PeopleSoft. Under founder David Duffield, PeopleSoft had a reputation as a pleasant, if somewhat unstructured, place to work. Unlike its competitor on the other side of the San Mateo bridge—Oracle—Duffield and company pursued a less-than-cutthroat plan to build out the companys base from human resource applications. PeopleSoft was known for having pets wandering in the offices and a relaxed atmosphere at the same time Silicon Valleys hard-charging business executives were at the height of their pursuit to become the digital kings of the new economy. Even its location, Pleasanton, sounds less than hard-charging.
From the time he arrived in 1999, Conway, formerly an Oracle executive vice president, imposed structure and direction. He also brought along the well-known Oracle competitiveness that can range from business aggression to a take-no-prisoners tunnel vision. I have no inside information, but it appears that the desire to thwart the Oracle takeover bid of PeopleSoft at all costs led the board of directors to remove Conway. In reports of courtroom depositions regarding the companys poison-pill anti-takeover defense, one board member mentioned some misleading statements from Conway as one reason for the removal.
That removal certainly doesnt resolve PeopleSofts ongoing business issues. The company still faces the Oracle takeover bid, the ongoing integration with J.D. Edwards business operations and a tech economy that questions big technology projects. PeopleSofts long-term strategy will not change very much after Conway, but the business approach and company style and agenda will change.
The same day that Conway was being shown the exit door at PeopleSoft, I was with a group of editors having breakfast with Sun Chairman Scott McNealy. Suns long-term strategy has changed remarkably little over the years, but the agenda detailing how to accomplish that strategy has shown great change. The company that once shied away from Linux and standard microprocessors now is trying to incorporate them into the product line.
Sun, and McNealy in particular, provided much entertainment in this overly technical business by jabbing at Microsoft. Now the company is working out the dates for joint product announcements.
But the long-term vision remains in place: running operations for authentication, scale and flexibility on the back end while letting users get what they need securely from just about any personal computer, kiosk or cell phone. Now McNealy says he has added voice over IP to the common computing interface he has access to at his house. McNealy has moved from way ahead of the computing paradigm to slightly ahead to right on. When you get to the point of exchanging e-mails with Microsofts Steve Ballmer to find an available product introduction date (I thought you were supposed to be able to do that stuff in Outlook), you can be sure that your product plans are very well hooked up with the mainstream.
Along the way, Sun has had some big ups and serious downs. Former Sun executives now populate some of the hottest Silicon Valley companies, such as Eric Schmidt at Google, and are undertaking some of the biggest turnaround attempts, such as Ed Zander at Motorola. McNealy has been the object of both praise and scorn. But throughout the ups and downs, the big vision—to provide the equivalent of ring-tone service to the computing infrastructure—has remained, and he has given Sun a firm ethical footing.
When I asked McNealy what he had on the agenda for 2005, he was quick to answer, “Growth with profit and reducing complexity. My agenda is to do it really well.” Not on his agenda is a Novell takeover. (“Personally, I deny that we are going after Novell,” he said.) He also wants to find more customers to sign up for Suns $100-per-employee simplified licensing as part of his complexity-reducing campaign.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at [email protected].