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Long road for Siebel ends at Oracle

Business software company founded by Tom Siebel accepts a $5.8 billion buyout from a company for which he once worked.

A proposed buyout by Oracle has business software maker Siebel Systems, founded by a former Oracle executive, coming full circle.

With its announcement Monday of a $5.8 billion deal to acquire Siebel, Oracle is bulking up for another, larger battle--this one against German software giant SAP. The move puts an end to long-running speculation that the ailing Siebel, which had changed its chief executive twice in the last year and a half, was a takeover candidate.

The news comes almost exactly a year after Oracle won a hard-fought legal battle to take control of another rival, PeopleSoft.

Siebel has fallen on hard times in the years since the dot-com bubble burst, knocking it from its lofty status among the elite software companies. In recent months, it was beset by challenges ranging from angry shareholders and hard-charging competitors such as

Here's a look back at the interlocking history of Siebel and Oracle.

Tom Siebel, a former Oracle executive, founds the company that bears his name.

Sometime allies Siebel and Oracle become out-and-out competitors for the affections of companies buying business software.

Shopping spree
Acquisitions are a key part of Oracle's battle plan for taking on rival SAP. Some recent buys:

Company: PeopleSoft
Date: December 2004
Price: About $10 billion
Goal: Enterprise applications

Company: Retek
Date: March 2005
Price: About $650 million
Goal: Software for retailers

Company: Oblix
Date: March 2005
Price: Not announced
Goal: Security software

Company: TimesTen
Date: June 2005
Price: Not announced
Goal: "Real-time" data processing software

Company: Context Media
Date: August 2005
Price: Not announced
Goal: Content management tools

Company: Siebel Systems
Date: September 2005
Price: $5.8 billion
Goal: CRM software

Source: Company reports

Siebel takes a spot on the influential Standard & Poor's index. "Siebel will remain the No. 1 CRM vendor for the foreseeable future," said Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

With the bloom off the dot-com rose, Siebel management sees tough times ahead.

SAP is closing in on Siebel's turf, and Microsoft announces plans to offer competing software. In an interview with CNET, Tom Siebel is bullish about the economy in general and on his company's ability to withstand the pressure. "I believe you cannot find a Siebel project that does not perceive itself as being successful. I do not believe you can find a Siebel customer that has switched to another CRM vendor." Still, he acknowledges the need to keep watch on rivals. "I'm worried about everyone gaining on us every minute of every day. Are you kidding? This is what I do for a living."

May 2004
Tom Siebel steps down as CEO, handing the reins to IBM veteran Mike Lawrie. The move comes as the company is showing signs of digging itself out of a financial hole.

June 2004
In a videotaped deposition during the PeopleSoft hearings, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison reveals that if the PeopleSoft deal can't be consummated, Siebel would be next on his list of companies to buy. He goes so far as to testify that the interest extended in both directions. "Tom Siebel came to my house and tried to sell me Siebel," Ellison said.

October 2004
With Siebel expecting to beat expectations for its third quarter, Lawrie's tenure seems to be off to a good start. The CEO tells that a thorough makeover is well under way. "We're making significant changes in strategy. The value proposition is completely changing. How we partner is completely changing. Markets that we go after are changing."

Issues of customer satisfaction are at the forefront, he said: "I think we have to be focused on assuring our customers and our partners that we deliver the business outcome for which our customers are looking. Those are very significant cultural changes."

January 2005
Oracle closes its purchase of PeopleSoft. Ellison tells analysts that his company can now turn its attention to the next big acquisition, one that would help make it No. 1 in the applications server market. "One way we can scale our business is through acquisitions," Ellison said.

SAP purchases TomorrowNow, which provides support services for products sold by the former PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards. "There's a lot of PeopleSoft customers who don't necessarily want to be Oracle customers," said Josh Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

March 2005
Oracle and SAP battle for possession of retail software specialist Retek, a tug-of-war that Oracle soon wins.

April 2005
Less than a year after putting Lawrie in office, Siebel drops him in favor of former Webvan CEO George Shaheen. Shaheen says he's not an interim chief, but the second-guessing is quick and brutal. "That place is a disaster," said Peter Coleman, a securities analyst at ThinkEquity Partners. "To get rid of somebody before you've given them a year to try shows there was more going on."

Disgruntled shareholders expressed similar doubts. "There was a feeling that this was a vote for the status quo from an entrenched management," says shareholder activist and Providence Capital President Herb Denton.

May 2005
The future is bright, Shaheen tells investors, so long as Siebel gets leaner, better organized and more focused on big market opportunities. "We're going to position this company for growth," he says. "We're going to return to our roots of growth and profitability."

June 2005
Oracle beats back the skeptics of its PeopleSoft acquisition with robust earnings results. A month later, Oracle co-president Charles Phillips tells that the company's acquisition strategy includes adding vertical-market expertise, as in the Retek deal. He doesn't mention specific targets, but he notes that the industry is consolidating and that smaller companies are having a tough time. "I do think we'll be opportunistic when price makes sense."

July 2005
Siebel is fighting back against rival in the market for hosted applications, an area in which Shaheen acknowledges that Siebel "took its eye off the ball." Where Siebel offers different versions of its hosted CRM (customer relationship management) tools for customers in different vertical industries, Salesforce is betting that companies will clamor to build their own applications.

September 2005
Oracle says it will acquire Siebel for $5.8 billion.