CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Conway or the highway

CNET News.com's Charles Cooper says the board is only telling half the story behind the surprise firing of PeopleSoft's CEO.

What a shame that Larry Ellison and Craig Conway never got the chance to reunite for that highly anticipated exit interview. It would have been a blockbuster on pay-per-view. After years as a member of Oracle's executive ranks, Conway had his fill of The World According to Larry, and this much is clear: Conway detests Ellison as much as Ellison detests Conway.

The rivalry got so heated that Ellison once even joked in public about whacking his former subordinate. Alas, we'll never know, because PeopleSoft screwed up the script by dumping Conway as CEO on Friday.

This was corporate hardball at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view). After the PeopleSoft board voted to appoint founder Dave Duffield as chief executive, company executives took dutiful swipes at Conway's leadership, leaving the clear impression that they found him wanting.

I do wish that they had shared the gory details. On the same day Conway was sent packing, PeopleSoft announced that third-quarter license revenue would exceed $150 million. That's better than Wall Street expected and evidence that the company is weathering the rough patch plaguing much of the enterprise software business.

Was Conway really that awful? Unlike Oracle's, PeopleSoft's shares are trading near their 52-week high--and this despite the tricky acquisition of J.D. Edwards, which could have easily blown up. For a good part of the last year, Oracle's stock flirted with its 52-week low.

Something in this sequence strikes the wrong chord, and since then, nobody from PeopleSoft's board has bothered to return my calls.
It makes you wonder what really went on behind the scenes. Something in this sequence strikes the wrong chord, and since then, nobody from PeopleSoft's board has bothered to return my calls--guys, feel free to pick up the phone any time; let an armchair quarterback toss one downfield.

Conway, who arrived at PeopleSoft five years ago, is a classic Type A Silicon Valley personality. Selling is what he does best. The last time I saw Conway was a couple of weeks ago, at a customer conference in San Francisco. Conway looked every bit the big-shot tech salesman as he commanded the stage in a crisp pinstripe suit, white shirt and yellow power tie. Soon he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Conway even offered a mushy testimonial to Duffield, including time in his presentation to thank him for his contribution and service to the company.

PeopleSoft's board has less sentimental affairs to consider. There's a solid $21-a-share offer on the table, and maybe it is time to negotiate seriously with Oracle. Ellison says he is hot for a deal. Who knows? Considering the improvement in PeopleSoft's business, Oracle might even be induced to further sweeten the bid.

It won't take long for the corporate weasels to turn their former boss into a nonperson.
I'm sure Conway was having none of it. The last thing he wanted was to wind up in Ellison's clutches. There is a lot of ego and testosterone in this battle. If the board pushed Conway into a corner, it's easy to envision him issuing an ultimatum: My way or the highway.

If so, the highway obviously won.

Any way you slice it, this rates as one of the most oddly timed high-profile dismissals since the George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin era. And consider this: Only hours after the Conway dismissal came news that the U.S. Department of Justice had conceded defeat in its bid to block the proposed merger.

It won't take long for the corporate weasels to turn their former boss into a nonperson. That's the way this sort of affair works. On the conference call, PeopleSoft was already doing its best to airbrush the firing. So it was that I stumbled across this nugget poking around the company Web site for lingering Conway-as-CEO references:

"Things happen fast at PeopleSoft," it reads.

I'll say.

Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF