The Games on the Line for Industry Closers

For CEO 'closers,' it's the bottom of the 9th inning.

If you follow baseball, chances are your team has had some issue related to its closing pitcher this year. Lord knows, our team here in Boston is suffering through nightly nail-biters with the guy who is supposed to take the ball and seal the deal.

If you are in New York, Arizona, Atlanta, San Francisco or Los Angeles, you know what Im saying. Cincinnati, Im looking at you here, too.

Stepping in to make quick work of winning when the game is on the line may be a dying art. In the league of tech vendors, were still waiting to see how several new faces in the executive ranks will handle being called in to mop up and make good. Remember, these corporate guys, like their baseball counterparts, are getting paid enormous amounts of money to get it done.

Since late last year, all eyes in Islandia, N.Y., have been on CEO John Swainson, the ex-IBMer who got the call to clean up the burgeoning mess at Computer Associates. In Swainsons defense, this was not a job for the weak of stomach. CA was enmeshed in a historic morass of fraud investigations, executive indictments, a bloated portfolio and sluggish sales—even in the "35-day" months.

But while Swainson came out of the IBM bullpen with talk of cleaning house and getting both CAs books and products in line, by April his reorganizations had begun to look more like the annual deck shuffling weve come to expect—and yawn at—from CA. Little has been done to root out the causes, or even some of the individuals, connected to the vendors problematic past. The company earlier this month was forced to restate earnings again as a result of accounting irregularities.

Swainson made a decent play last week with the acquisition of Niku, which gives CA a leg up in the hot compliance arena, but to really prove hes the guy for the job, hell have to deliver on early promises to break with CAs checkered past, dismiss the tainted holdovers from the previous regime, and show where CA will capitalize on strong suits such as security and storage. We should not have to wait until CA World in November to see real movement on Long Island.

Meanwhile, across the country, Mark Hurd was tapped to step in for a struggling Carly Fiorina as CEO at Hewlett-Packard, a place with its priorities out of order. Hurd was known as a thoughtful, deliberate guy at his previous gig at NCR, so it was unlikely hed make rapid, wholesale changes at HP after taking the job in March. But by now, most observers expected more concrete plans than the "reviewing operations and cost structures" Hurd laid out to investors earlier this month. Hurd does get credit for reversing last week his predecessors decision to merge HPs printer and PC groups. But hell need to spell out continuing roles for top HP execs such as services head Ann Livermore, CTO Shane Robison and IPSG chief Vyomesh Joshi. Besides winning over the team, Hurd should be detailing cost-cutting efforts as well as a vision for HPs underperformers, such as storage.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about HPs move to split PC and printer units.

New to the roster is the much-maligned George Shaheen, who comes to Siebel with a sketchy win-loss record to lead a company in serious need of fresh ideas and direction.

Shaheen may have been on the starting rotation at Andersen Consulting, but hes best known for driving Webvan into the ground. If hes to avoid back-to-back blown saves, hell need to make the case that Siebel is more a CRM contender than an acquisition target.

The speculation has long been that Shaheen failed at Webvan because a guy who rarely shopped for his own groceries couldnt possibly understand enough about the business to make it appealing to consumers. Given Shaheens latest statements regarding the future of Siebel, his grasp of CRM may be equally tenuous. His rosy coming-out statements last month were replete with dot-com-era buzzwords indicating a commitment to "growth," "position" and "resizing" but were noticeably lacking in specific plans to keep from getting beaten by Oracle and SAP. In short order, Shaheen will need to show he understands the depth of Siebels problems and the reasons it loses deals to, or hell be writing Siebels "Chapter 3" with his predecessor, Mike Lawrie.

Executive Editor/News Chris Gonsalves can be contacted at

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