The 2005 Influential Leaders

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In alphabetical order the winners are:

Larry Ellison
CEO, Oracle
The Emperor

Larry Ellison essentially wiped out one of his company's biggest competitors this year when Oracle's $11.1 billion, 18-month-long PeopleSoft acquisition tussle came to an end. Now that is influence. The conquest moved Oracle to the top of the enterprise software space, but it leaves the company with three very different product lines: PeopleSoft's, J.D. Edwards' (acquired by PeopleSoft), and Oracle's own. To resolve the product-line disparity Oracle unveiled Project Fusion earlier this year, which merges functionality from the three vendors. Existing PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards customers can rest easy, as Ellison discussed plans to support the PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards product lines through 2013.

As if the PeopleSoft deal were not significant enough for Oracle's future success, the company also acquired retail software providers Retek in April (after a bidding war with SAP) and ProfitLogic in July. Ellison says the company is focusing on acquisitions in specific industry segments like the retail space, giving Oracle a competitive advantage over SAP when it comes to customers looking for software vendors with experience in their vertical market, as opposed to suite providers.

Evidence of Ellison's further acquisition intentions may include the July hiring of a new president and CFO for Oracle, former Microsoft executive Greg Maffei, who is known for his experience in major mergers and acquisitions. --Alexandra DeFelice

Greg Gianforte
CEO and Founder, RightNow Technologies
The Gainer

Greg Gianforte knows a thing or two about startup endeavors: In 1986 he founded Brightworks Development, a developer of network management applications. He sold it in 1994 to McAfee Associates. At RightNow Technologies, which he founded in 1997, Gianforte expanded the company from a strictly Web self-service play to also providing CRM suite capabilities with solutions that include RightNow Service, RightNow Sales, RightNow Marketing, and RightNow Analytics. Despite this progression, the company hasn't lost its service and support roots. Some months ago RightNow completed its acquisition of voice self-service solutions provider Convergent Voice, which is RightNow's first acquisition; unveiled several voice modules; and announced its first voice-related patent.

Gianforte's efforts continue to pay off. While many CRM vendors are watching their revenues limp along, the on-demand provider experiences a consistent increase in its financial prosperity: As of July 2005 RightNow continued to enjoy a remarkable revenue growth streak--through 30 consecutive quarters--and an impressive worldwide client roster. The capper? Its IPO announcement in August 2004. --Coreen Bailor

John Roberts
CEO and Cofounder, SugarCRM
The Opener

John Roberts's intention when he helped found SugarCRM was to have the company become the "Linux of CRM." That has not happened yet, but there is no question that Roberts's firm has made an indelible mark on the industry. Today, SugarCRM is the premier commercial open-source CRM provider, and being at the helm has enabled Roberts to break the rules set by conventional CRM solutions.

Founded in the spring of 2004, the company has been a force to be reckoned with in the CRM market ever since. It competes with giants like Salesforce.com, SAP, and Siebel Systems, and does so by using distributed, open source product development. Slowly but surely, open source is making its presence felt in the SMB market. SugarCRM is leading the way. Roberts believes that the services-heavy business model could position SugarCRM to capitalize on strong growth in the hosted and on-demand SMB market. Open source has even had enough impact to entice industry heavyweight Salesforce.com to incorporate open source tool kits in its Summer '05 release, among others.

Roberts has overseen every SugarCRM product release, up to and including Sugar Suite 3.5--at the same time, the company's total downloads soared to 250,000 in the past year. The company continues to be a leader within the space with its Sugar Professional, Sugar Suite, and recently launched Sugar Enterprise edition. To help his efforts, Roberts has built an extensive resource portfolio by entering the company into a number of partner agreements. --Colin Beasty

Ron Verni
President and CEO, Sage Software, North America
The Wise Man

Since becoming CEO of Sage Group's North America operations in October 2000, Ron Verni has presided over a number of high-profile acquisitions, including SalesLogix, ACT!, and ACCPAC--products that are part of any sensible list of leading CRM and SFA software for the SMB market. To Sage's partner-reseller network, though, Verni serves as more than just an executive. He is the enthusiastic proponent of the company's efforts, the charismatic speaker and leader to whom colleagues look for guidance. His leadership includes programs like 100/100, Fast Track 100, and Sage Partner University, designed to help partners grow and refine their businesses on Sage's dime.

This year, as his division changes its name from Best Software to Sage (aligning itself more closely with the parent company), Verni is meeting the challenge of maintaining corporate identity and continuing to grow the business.
Sage and its products have already won a dozen industry awards in 2005, with more on the way. Sage CRM and SageCRM.com fill the company's midlevel CRM-product slot, making the same features available as either a hosted service or an installed suite. This meets Verni's stated mission to grow at the speed of the customer. The innovative delivery model includes a rebate for customers that switch from hosted to installed, answering Salesforce.com's "No Software" marketing campaign by charging that the competitor allows "No Choice." --Marshall Lager

Brad Wilson
General Manager, Microsoft CRM
The Remodeler

When Microsoft gets set to launch a new application customers hold off on purchasing decisions to review it, partners clamor to integrate with it, and competitors line up to lambaste the company. This puts Brad Wilson in a unique position, as the CRM world waits for Microsoft 3.0, now slated to ship in early 2006. On Wilson's watch Microsoft earlier this year canceled the release of Microsoft CRM version 2.0 in favor of what the company considers the more robust 3.0.

Appointed to his position as general manager of CRM in February, Wilson brings about 20 years of experience in the technology industry to the title. He previously had served in numerous vice presidential roles at Epiphany, and then as worldwide vice president of CRM marketing at PeopleSoft. Along with David Thacher, who maintains his position as general manager for CRM development at Microsoft, Wilson will quarterback the launch of 3.0 and ensure the solution meets the needs of the market it targets--the SMB space.

Wilson envisions 3.0 being "a simple, natural extension" of Microsoft Office and Outlook. Combined with Microsoft's huge partner base (more than 100 ISVs and more than 1,400 systems integrators and consultants), Microsoft 3.0 has the potential to capture significant market share. Between the potential the midmarket holds and the built-up demand for Microsoft CRM 3.0, Wilson will be a force to consider in 2006. --Colin Beasty

Hall of Fame

Marc Benioff
Chairman and CEO
The Trendsetter

It's difficult to deny Marc Benioff's role in the CRM marketplace. Even his arch rivals acknowledge him as a marketing powerhouse who turned a bad economy into a huge business opportunity by offering companies that couldn't afford to buy expensive enterprise software a chance to rent a low-cost alternative. When it comes to hosted versus on-premise software, many vendors are no longer trying to convince their customers that one is better than the other. Instead, traditional on-premise companies, including Microsoft and Sage Software, are coming out with hosted options for those that want them. That is a clear acknowledgment that under Benioff's leadership Salesforce.com is making a deeper splash in competitive waters.

Benioff's influence is so strong that for CRM magazine's 2005 Market Leader Awards we included whether companies offer their product as a hosted solution. Salesforce.com also won in two categories--SMB and midmarket suites. Under his leadership this year alone, Salesforce.com grew its revenue by 84 percent over last year, launched its Summer '05 release for rapid customization, entered into a strategic partnership with Accenture, and announced a large enterprise customer--Merrill Lynch--to demonstrate companies of all sizes could succeed without software. --Alexandra DeFelice

Contact Editor-in-Chief David Myron at dmyron@destinationCRM.com

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