PeopleSoft used to be a nice company. It had built a reputation for actually listening to its customers and even its employees, and it was not one to spend much time pointing out the failings of its competitors: that would be considered unsporting, rude even, and PeopleSoft was too nice for that. Then, in September 1999, Craig Conway became CEO…
When Mr Conway joined he didn’t understand the importance of being nice. Soon after taking the reins he remarked: I used to think PeopleSoft didn’t do a good job of marketing. Now I realize you just don’t do marketing. That’s not a very nice thing to say, now is it?
It seemed Mr Conway’s eight years at Oracle in a variety of vice president positions before he joined PeopleSoft had got to him. Perhaps he had been frustrated at not climbing the ranks there further. But, after Oracle and then a couple of start-ups, he was ready for the major leagues as he described them. He said that he wanted to play with the big boys like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Ken Olsen. It turned out he wanted to act like them, too.
If Mr Conway wanted to maintain any of PeopleSoft’s self-styled nice guy image, he didn’t show it. He had not been there long when he said at a product launch that Oracle – his former employer – had become a sociopathic company. He said, SAP is clearly struggling. And his CTO Rick Bergquist joined in too, saying of Oracle’s 11i strategy: Quite frankly, our developers refer to it [Oracle 11i] as lipstick on a pig.
Mr Conway was so nasty, compared to his predecessor and PeopleSoft founder, Dave Duffield, that PeopleSoft’s board had no option but to fire him last Friday. The official reason they gave was that he misspoke when he told analysts in September 2003 that Oracle’s takeover attempt for the company was not a deterrent to customers buying PeopleSoft software. We knew that Mr Conway had misspoken and what he had said was untrue, PeopleSoft director Steven Goldby said earlier this week.
But worst of all, Mr Conway wouldn’t let Oracle buy his company. According to Oracle, he wouldn’t even go and talk to them. How nasty is that? He also said of the takeover attempt that it was atrociously bad behavior from a company with a history of atrociously bad behavior. (He didn’t seem to mind that bad behavior quite so much when he worked at the company for eight years, however. That bad behavior also didn’t stop him hiring two senior Oracle executives – Deepak Gupta and Sam Galluccito – within less than a year of his becoming PeopleSoft CEO, but that’s besides the point, isn’t it?)
Now that Mr Conway has gone, and Mr Duffield has been appointed CEO once more, perhaps the company can return to its nice, quiet roots. The early signs certainly suggest as much. Steven Goldby reportedly said on Tuesday that if Oracle is willing to pay the right price for shareholders and there is a high certainty of being able to close a transaction quickly then he would be open to discussions with Oracle. Now isn’t that so much nicer?
The question on everyone’s lips is whether PeopleSoft will now agree to be acquired by Oracle. Attention is focused on the current case where Oracle is trying to dismantle the poison pill, and on whether the EU will block the deal on anti-competitive grounds. But neither of these things will change the fact that Mr Duffield is likely to play a fair, gentlemanly game from now on. He’s too nice not to. Larry Ellison isn’t quite so nice. He’s considered a ruthless strategist and his company has a reputation for aggressive sales tactics. He’s also apparently not averse to covert operations – remember Larrygate? The battle now is between Mr Really Rather Nice and Mr Prepared To Play Nasty.