I worked at PeopleSoft from 2000 to 2005 and I really did enjoy my time there as a Sales Consultant. Over the years I got to be friends with many people at the company and I concentrated on building a large network of people that could support me in the work I did. In 2004 Oracle was attempting a hostile takeover bid of PeopleSoft and the PeopleSoft CEO, Craig Conway, was fired by the board. In his place they brought PeopleSoft founder (and former CEO) Dave Duffield. Dave was extremely popular at PeopleSoft and his return was really welcomed, particularly for those who had chaffed under Conway’s somewhat dictatorial rule.
I would count myself amongst the group that was excited about Dave’s return late in 2004. I was hopeful that things could be turned around at PeopleSoft and that we could fend off Oracle’s advances. Although I had only met Dave once before at a huge company party (I just shook his hand and said "hello") I really wanted him to succeed in his position, and wanted to do whatever I could to help in that effort. So just a few days after he had resumed duties as CEO I wrote him an email offering my assistance. This led to a series of emails (and in-person conversations) with Dave over the next few months. Below is the text of the first email I sent. I clearly remember sending the message and then getting a response from Dave less than 90 minutes later. Although I don’t feel comfortable sharing Dave’s actual email response (since they are his words, not mine) I can say that he encouraged me to continue with my communications, and I obliged.
Welcome back. I am a Technical Solution Consultant in the Western region and I want to offer you my insights into life of an individual contributor at PeopleSoft. In fact, I would like to update you regularly on “Life in the Trenches” – a weekly update on what I am hearing from customers, employees and partners about how our direction at PeopleSoft is being perceived. I realize that one of the toughest parts of being a CEO is getting real information from your people – I don’t want that to happen now that you are in charge.
I will send an installment of this message each week (probably Monday or Tuesday) with a read receipt – tell me if you want me to stop, I am sure your inbox gets full quickly. I will try to keep it brief, but with detail available should you choose to read the entire message. This does not need to be a dialog – a simple “keep ‘em coming” or “cut it out!” will suffice.
Life in the Trenches for Week of October 4th, 2004
General Climate for Employees
Last week’s news of Craig’s removal and your return to CEO was received with varied opinions internally. One of my counterparts whom has been with the company for over ten years described it as “having only an upside, the question is how much of an upside”. For my personal opinion see “My Personal Opinion” below. In general I found that people who actually were around during the last company downturn 5 years ago were more pessimistic – they remembered how the company struggled at the end of your tenure as CEO and are perhaps more likely to believe analysts that say the company is being set up for a sale. Some folks that were not around before Craig (like me) have an excitement about the change. From many I got the sense on Friday and Monday that employees just feel like it is just one more Oracle nail in our coffin. Most hold out some hope that your employee focus will at least mean a good result in case of a takeover.
General Climate for Customers
I spoke to several customers last week as well – I expect to do more of that this week. I was very clear with customers about how I felt about the change, but I the concern I heard from them was consistent. A Program Manager at one of our major customers (I won’t use names to protect the AE) described the chaos going on at his company. They have a ton of PeopleSoft installed – from HR to CRM and there are multiple projects in the works along with active sales cycles. All of this has been thrown into question by the Oracle bid, and the change in leadership only adds more questions. Because the PM is such a coach for PeopleSoft it is clear that he was concerned about his position in the company with such uncertainty surrounding PeopleSoft. He called to get my opinion but I can’t say that my view (See “My Personal Opinion” below), however positive, reassured him. It is going to be a tough road with some customers. I will prod some of my other coaches over the next few weeks to get a better sampling.
General Climate for Partners
I have a special relationship with Microsoft – I have served as the de-facto technical liaison to Microsoft for the past 2 years, and I get to spend a lot of time interacting with their staff – hence most of my partner insights will center on Microsoft. I spent the week prior to the announcement working the Microsoft booth at Connect. Microsoft was, of course, extremely upset at the IBM announcement because they perceived it as a move towards the Java architecture. The removal of Craig was seen as a positive thing – Craig was not liked at Microsoft because of his comments last year about .NET being “like asbestos” – but you and Aneel Bhsuri are an unknown. I think the change has convinced Microsoft to take a little time to consider what comes next – they were seriously considering upping their relationship with SAP and cutting off PeopleSoft altogether after the IBM announcement.
First off, I heard a rumor describing the change over three weeks ago – I dismissed it as wishful thinking from the old guard. I have to say I was ecstatic to find it was actually true. I have high standards for leadership – I am an excellent follower (and have been a leader at times as well) but I have little tolerance for ego and micromanaging. I am excited to have a leader of your caliber and caring in charge of PeopleSoft. It gives me renewed vigor in my job and makes me hopeful for the future. That is the sentiment I consistently project when talking with customers, partners and employees – it is what I truly believe. I am offering my insights because I want to see you, and the company, succeed. I know that to be successful as a leader you have to get honest feedback from your followers – that is what I hope to provide from my little corner of the world.
Keep in mind that my opinion is colored by my position in the company – I am an expensive and valued resource that is difficult to replace. I have been a consistent performer and I am well regarded by my peers and management and I have a large network in the industry. So I believe I can afford to be optimistic – others are not so lucky. I also have confidence in your leadership because of an interaction that we had when I first started with PeopleSoft. I sent you a message regarding how I was inspired by your creation of "Maddie’s Fund". You later had my letter published in the Maddie’s Fund newsletter – it was at that point that I knew you were a leader who actually listened.