PeopleSoft Founder and Chairman Duffield Replaces Conway as CEO
On Monday PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield made minor news in the entertainment world when he purchased the Ponderosa Ranch of television's Bonanza
fame. On Friday Duffield made the front page when PeopleSoft terminated President and CEO Craig Conway, and handed the top job back to its chairman and founder.
"The simple and plain reason is that over time the board has become increasingly concerned with Craig's leadership and essentially has lost confidence," said PeopleSoft Director George Battle on a conference call announcing the decision. "There is no smoking gun, no accounting irregularity, and he is not terminated under 'for-cause' provisions of his contract. It's a matter of the board losing confidence in Craig, and when that happens one has to make a decision."
Duffield said during the call that his position is not an interim appointment. "I'm here for the long term, totally energized." He stressed that under his leadership PeopleSoft will pursue innovation over Conway's culture of "operational excellence," which Erin Kinikin, vice president at Forrester Research, says was becoming a problem for PeopleSoft customers.
"What that translated to was monetizing the existing customer base with a lot of maintenance price increases and some reduced responsiveness," she says. "I think Duffield is going to try to capitalize on his customer equity and keep the customer base stable while the company tries to get some more flexible maintenance policies and a better connection with customers."
Most of PeopleSoft's CRM strategy has evolved during Conway's tenure, including the close of the acquisition of Vantive that first served notice that PeopleSoft would be a CRM player. No signals were immediately sent as to whether PeopleSoft would change its CRM outlook. "I think [PeopleSoft CRM general manager] George Ahn is a Dave Duffield kind of guy--customer focused, a builder, not a hold-everybody-to-the-numbers kind of guy," Kinikin says.
PeopleSoft's new executives were cagey about how the company's previously stonewall position regarding Oracle's unsolicited takeover bid would now be handled. Battle repeatedly emphasized that all the decisions of PeopleSoft's transaction committee, which comprises independent corporate directors, had been unanimous and acted on by the company's board and executives, including its recommendation Thursday night that the board terminate Conway. This led to speculation that the removal of the anti-Oracle executive signals a shift in direction, but Kinikin says that Duffield "is no more a fan of this acquisition than Craig Conway was."
Martin Schneider, enterprise software analyst at The 451 Group, takes a different view: "I think they have to seriously open up talks [with Oracle], and Conway was a major obstacle to that," he says. "[PeopleSoft is] putting someone in who is very much a figurehead--you equate the company with the founder, so if he says he is behind [the acquisition], but still behind the customers, it sends a message to customers and investors."
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