Lotus stands behind Papows

Lotus executives are saying little in response to a Wall Street Journal article that raised questions about the integrity of the company's president Jeffrey Papows.

3 min read
Lotus executives are saying little in response to a Wall Street Journal article yesterday that raised questions about the integrity of the company's president Jeffrey Papows.

Observers said that while the article raises some serious credibility concerns, they doubt it will have any impact on business or the executive's future in the company.

The article in yesterday's Journal profiled Papows as an ambitious executive who may have lied about his educational background, military service record, and personal history in order to advance his career and Lotus's sales.

Bryan Simmons, Lotus vice president of worldwide communications, said the article is nothing but "rumors strung together by commentary."

The Cambridge-based company's parent IBM referred all questions about the article back to Simmons.

Yesterday, Papows issued an internal email to Lotus employees, claiming that the story "includes false allegations about my career and military experience," according to the Boston Globe. In the email, Papows did not dispute any specifics of the allegations, the Globe reported.

Sam Albert, a longtime analyst of IBM business strategy, said he questioned the relevance of the story. "What does it do to hurt performance, business, or his leadership?"

Albert, who was at IBM headquarters when the story broke yesterday, said Papows provided adequate responses to the accusations. "I just don't understand the meaning of the article. It's a discussion of a person's background."

More importantly, Albert said he doesn't expect the accusations will force Big Blue to dismiss Papows. "Even if all of this is true, it doesn't impact his performance at Lotus, which has been stellar."

In the Journal article, former colleagues and Lotus customers recall being "wowed by what Papows has told them about his life--his rise from orphan to Marine flier who burst an eardrum training for the Gulf War and who once saved himself and a buddy by hurling a live grenade out of a trench."

Drawing from a host of sources, from former military brass to former coworkers and Lotus executives, the Journal draws a picture of a successful tech-executive who may have stretched the truth to get where he is.

The Journal article said Papows claimed he had a PhD from Pepperdine University, but actually holds a master's from Pepperdine and a PhD from a correspondence school. Papows also bragged of having a black belt in tae kwan do, according to the report, but actually has a red belt. Further, although Papows allegedly told business associates that he was an orphan, his parents live in Massachusetts.

After initially being surprised by the article that ran on the front page of the prestigious newspaper, a number of observers who have watched both IBM and Lotus for years said they don't expect to see any immediate negative impact on the company's business or to Papows's standing with Big Blue.

The article is "embarrassing," said Eric Brown, an analyst with Forrester, but could have been more damaging had it been published earlier this year. "Had this story come out in January, this would have been disastrous. They already had egg on their face at that time."

In January, Papows stood on a stage at Lotusphere99 in Orlando, Florida, the company's user conference, and informed the audience that the next version of its popular groupware package Notes/Domino R5 was going to be delayed roughly another month. The delay--the second major setback for the company's flagship product--was not the last, however. Lotus did not begin general shipment of the software package until April 1.

"Now that R5 has shipped I don't think this will make a difference," said Brown.

The Journal article also asked Marine officers in charge of choosing what Intranet software to purchase and who had chosen Lotus Notes, over Microsoft Exchange, whether Papows' military past had anything to do with their decision. They told the newspaper it had.