Off The Gunwales - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
10/1/2004
04:54 PM
Ted Kemp
Ted Kemp
Commentary
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Off The Gunwales

With or without Conway, PeopleSoft may still have some fight left in it.

When I saw the news that PeopleSoft had hoisted Craig Conway out of the CEO's chair, my first thought was, "Goodbye, PeopleSoft." But now I think I might have been wrong.

The PeopleSoft board maintains that it still opposes Oracle's hostile bid to acquire the company. The board also says all its decisions in the fight against Oracle so far have been unanimous. And though the board won't say why it fired Conway, it claims it had nothing to do with the takeover attempt.

PeopleSoft founder and chairman David Duffield now takes the helm. Duffield might be less caustic than Conway, but a number of PeopleSoft partners think Duffield's ascendancy could signal a deepening commitment to fight off Oracle. As a symbol of the "old" PeopleSoft culture, the thinking goes, he harkens back to a day when the company was even less culturally compatible with Oracle than it is now.

The argument holds water. PeopleSoft had a reputation as a company with big employee perks and genial partner relations when Duffield led the business. Later, as the company's sales efforts began to list, the tough, no-nonsense Conway was brought in to right the ship.

He succeeded. And he steered PeopleSoft through a very tough fight against Oracle, even as the larger rival sang a sweet $7.7 billion siren song -- Oracle's current buyout offer -- to lure PeopleSoft shareholders to its side.

Now, though, Conway's time has passed. Is the board merely giving Redwood City a subtle nod, pushing its abrasive captain overboard in the hope of getting a better offer? Somebody on Wall Street sure thinks that's what's happening -- PeopleSoft stock jumped to almost $23 today, which is $2 more than Oracle's current per-share offer.

But everything PeopleSoft has done in recent weeks -- with the exception of canning Conway -- indicates that it plans to stay the course. It signed a spate of agreements with the likes of IBM and Business Objects, and debuted a series of new products and upgrades. I think this takeover fight has still got some life left in it -- with or without Conway on the gunwales.

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