Oracle vs. PeopleSoft: When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies

Is there justice in the world? Not from the Department of Justice's handling of the Oracle-PeopleSoft antitrust case. Larry Ellison and Co. bring a new meaning to "hostile" takeovers.

When considering Oracle it is often difficult to separate the company and its business from its charismatic leader, Larry Ellison. This feeling must be a shared by many following Thursdays ruling on the U.S. Department of Justices antitrust case.

But unlike a number of high-profile high-tech companies with equally high-profile bosses—Steve Jobs and Apple Computer come to mind—most of these corporate personality connections dont take such a toll in the branding department as does Oracle and its founder.

Like me, a good number of people believe that Larry Ellison is sleaze incarnate and that Oracle has taken on much the same negative personality as its honcho.

The company has taken note of this image problem and recently began reigning in its notoriously "coin-operated" sales force in an attempt to improve its image. In the summer, it came out with its first-ever set of rules for sales staff in the hope to stop the yelling from partners and the channel.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about how Oracle is teaching its sales force to "play nice."

Thus, an Oracle takeover of PeopleSoft, especially a hostile takeover, must be a bad thing. Questions come to mind. What did PeopleSoft do to deserve Oracles unwanted attentions? Or put another way: Anything that makes Larry Ellison happy is probably bad news for the rest of us, even if we cant quite say why.

So when someone says Oracles takeover of PeopleSoft would be bad for competition, and especially if that someone is the Department of Justice, I am likely to take the feds position in the matter. But the DOJs logic didnt hold up at trial time and the ruling against it, handed down Thursday in the District Court, came as little surprise.

To get some perspective on the ruling, I looked up an analysis of the case published in June by the Software and Information Industry Association. (For the record, I hosted a conference for SIIA last May.) The report took a hardline position against the DOJ, and its anonymous author is doubtless pleased with the outcome, although the SIIA took no official stand on the case.

According to the analysis, the DOJ looked at the issues too narrowly, ignored the impact of changing technology, discounted existing competition, and completely missed Microsoft as an emerging player. The SIIA sees enterprise software as a hotly competitive market that will only become more so in the future.

Now, the DOJ has the option of appeal, though there is little reason to expect the government to prevail. In that case, Oracle is clear to press ahead in its takeover bid. My hope is that either PeopleSoft will fight off Larrys army or there will at least be some compromise that makes the buyout less adversarial.

For the most part, hostile takeovers tend to be bad for both the target company and its customers. PeopleSoft is a classy company that has done a good job for its customers and employees. I hope they will hold out.

Listen, if there were justice in the world, PeopleSoft would be taking over (and cleaning up) Oracle.

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