James Governor's Monkchips

Swainson: Early Days but signs are good

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I first met John Swainson, CA’s new CEO, back in 1999, just as IBM Software Group (SWG) really began to get its act together. I remember driving back from a meeting at Somers with my then boss Jonathan Eunice and we were both like “holy cow- the game is going to get real interesting from here on in, IBM has the ducks lined up”…

Swainson was not the most talkative guy at the table that day (that might have been Danny Sabbah, who is nearly as interrupt driven as i am but WAY smarter…) but probably asked the most pointed questions. He was probably wondering who is this snotty young guy acting like he knows IBM middleware?

Anyhow – back when IBM was still trying to work out how to run a software business it made some interesting decisions, such as hiring Jan Lindelow to run Tivoli. Jan was a great salesman and he sold a ton of Tivoli to Nordic enterprises. But I still remember just how freaked out I was when i met him six months into his tenure and he refused to answer any questions that referred to product- “i am only just getting to know the business, i have only been here six months”…

As an information addict this seemed totally weird to me, and it was one of the most boring and stilted breakfast meetings i have ever had. I don’t think Lindelow was cut out to run that business.

The opposite is true of Swainson. He looks like just the guy to run CA for quite a few reasons.

One is his ability to cope with selling a broad portfolio, to abstract across a range of capabilties. All the signs (and the interviews he already gave to crn and computerworld) indicate he has already got his hands and head around the extremely broad CA portfolio (even though him calling it 500 products is probably a little over optimistic; i would estimate 700 or 800 whittled down from a portfolio of more than 1300 products at the height of CA’s acquisition spree). Swainson obviously spent plenty of time on due diligence as he paced around the car park in Somers with a cell phone to his ear.

Another is his understanding of the importance of brand – you know that thing called WebSphere? John was a key figure in turning WebSphere into a brand that beat BEA before IBM was completely ready to do so in terms of technical architecture. The stronger brand beat the more elegant architecture. Jocelyne Attal often gets the credit for this brand exercise, but Swainson was her boss in IBM’s Application Middleware and Integration (AIM) business. [One wonders just how long she will be at Avaya now John is at CA…]

The third reason Swainson is the right guy for CA is that he is tough. really tough. none of the guys running SWG are shrinking violets, although some are more fiery than others. But you just dont get to a senior position at IBM unless you can play politics, eat some dogs, and tough it out when you need to. CA is a company in need of a tree shake, recent ructions notwithstanding and so all those skills will apply. There are still some bad apples there and its still a very political environment.

But from a technology perspective CA is in very good shape. It also has really good people like Simon Perry (goatee beard, made eTrust not just a strong brand but a cool one, he should be a contender for chief marketing officer at some point), John Ainsworth, Mr Ingres, (slick schema mapping tools for data integration long before the approach was fashionable), and Yogesh Gupta (great technologist, but in the shadow of more aggressive salesy types. it will be interesting to see what relationship he forms with Swainson).

Its good that Swainson is in a hurry. With Symantec in the hunt for Veritas life is going to be really interesting real soon. Swainson says he is going after security and data protection? this will be some fight.

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