Craig Conway compares the challenges he faces as the CEO of PeopleSoft to those Michael Eisner faced upon taking the helm of Disney back in the '80s. Both men were charged with turning around under-performing, yet potentially prosperous companies. "Disney had a great brand name with wonderful relationships in the industry and so did PeopleSoft...I thought it was a great opportunity," Conway says.
Since seizing this "great opportunity" in 1999, Conway has reinvigorated the back office stalwart by acquiring beleaguered CRM giant Vantive--another under-performing technology vendor with great brand recognition--and shifting PeopleSoft's focus to the front office. With the recent release of PeopleSoft 8, the company's CRM suite, the transformation is complete: PeopleSoft is back.
"I bet the entire company's fortune in terms of its development," Conway says of PeopleSoft 8, adding, "It took every developer in the company and 20 percent of our revenue to complete it."
Such a bold move is, to date, the crowning achievement of a career that began when Conway became, at age 22, the youngest applications engineer ever to work at Tymeshare, a time savings application company. In 1992, after several jobs and a few years, Conway went to Oracle, an ERP systems provider and, at the time, PeopleSoft's major competitor. After spending eight years there, he left to pursue his goal of becoming a CEO of a small company. He successfully ran two companies--both of which he took public and sold. In 1999, his attention turned to PeopleSoft when he learned that its CEO Dave Duffield planned to retire.
At that time, ERP--PeopleSoft's bread and butter--was yesterday's news. To further burden Conway's transition, Duffield's management team left with him. Conway says the company barely profited, and its stock sunk to $11 a share. Nevertheless, he remained sober about PeopleSoft's position and mapped out a plan--one that would eventually redefine the company.
Next, he alerted his shareholders that he wanted to acquire Vantive, which was at that time in desperate need of a partner. "We felt if we could extend Vantive's product line to our customer base worldwide and enhance the product line in functionality and architecture, that we could take a run at the top spot," Conway explains.
Two years and a lot of hard work later, the ticket to this top spot, Conway says, is PeopleSoft 8, which he hopes will firmly position his company as a leading high-end CRM player. "That position felt great for the first 10 years and it feels good again," Conway says. "We're going to try not to lose it."