Conway 'Bulletproof' at PeopleSoft Connect

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld Print this article Print

Chief executive officer Craig Conway put on the dog today as he welcomed customers to PeopleSoft Connect, the enterprise software company's annual users' conference. He walked out on the stage with his dog. They both wore bullet-proof vests, in a pointed

ANAHEIM, Calif.— Chief executive officer Craig Conway put on the dog today as he welcomed customers to PeopleSoft Connect, the enterprise software company's annual users' conference.

Actually, he walked out on the stage with his dog -- a black lab retriever named Abbey. They both wore bullet-proof vests, in a pointed rebuke to Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, the database software giant that has himself led a hostile attempt to take over PeopleSoft, for $7.5 billion.

"Have you noticed how often Larry Ellison changes his mind?," Conway asked a standing-room-only crowd of thousands of PeopleSoft customers in the Anaheim Convention Center. More than 10,000 persons are attending this year's event, including representatives from 1,500 different companies which is a gain from 1,200 at least year's gathering in New Orleans.

At first, Conway noted, Ellison was not going to sell any of PeopleSoft's products once the company was acquired. Later, he reversed himself and said Oracle would. Secondly, he said there would be massive layoffs of PeopleSoft's workers and managers, Conway noted. Then, he changed this tune. Lastly, Ellison said in public statements, that he was going to shoot the dog. Then, Ellison said he would "shoot me," Conway said.

"So, Abbey and I have decided not to take any chances," he said, as he and his lab stood on stage clad in projectile-proof beige jackets.

As he has said before, he and PeopleSoft's top executives have spent their summer months fending off Oracle. Conway contended Ellison never really wanted to acquire PeopleSoft, just harm its business. Ellison's statements at the outset that he would discontinue products and layoff staff are not what you would say, if you really were committing your company's shareholders to spending billions to acquire a market-leading supplier of corporate software. By implication that would mean you were asking customers to rip out their existing systems and put in new.

"Call me crazy, but that doesn't seem like what you do, or say, if you want to make the best of an acquisition," said Conway. Rather, "everything was consistent with disruption" of PeopleSoft's business and its own plan to acquire, on a friendly basis, J.D. Edwards, a company that sells software in complementary areas to corporate customers. Where PeopleSoft is strong in software for managing services such as financial investments, telecommunications, health care, education and government, J.D. Edwards' strengths are in software for managing assets, such as factories, distribution networks and real estate. Where PeopleSoft is strongest in selling to billion-dollar enterprises, J.D. Edwards is strongest in serving under-a-billion-a-year companies.

Conway said that Oracle's tactic "could have worked," but that PeopleSoft's customers stuck by their investments and helped boost the company's second quarter revenues as the takeover attempt flared and raised the cost of the takeover to a possibly untenable price for Oracle.

PeopleSoft completed the J.D. Edwards acquisition in July. The company's backers, including its International Customer Advisory Board, helped convince the Justice Department to delay Ellison's push as it delves into the antitrust implications of merging two of the three largest U.S.-based suppliers of software to large companies.

The third quarter results were helped by a PeopleSoft countermove: it promised to support or find support through third parties for its products no matter what Oracle did -- even if it managed somehow to take over the company and shutter one or more lines of software.

After his keynote, Conway declined to estimate for Baseline how much that guarantee helped boost sales in that critical quarter. "That was a tool that helped them feel more comfortable. I don't think that was a reason to buy," he said.

He would not comment on what he and his company still had to do to make sure Oracle went away for certain. Its hostile bid is still alive, but, at least in Conway's mind, on life support.

This article was originally published on 2003-09-15
Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
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