CA's retiring Wang leaves lasting legacy

Love him or hate him, retiring Computer Associates International chairman Charles Wang will have a lasting influence not just on CA, but on the software industry as a whole.

          Love him or hate him, retiring Computer Associates International chairman Charles Wang will have a lasting influence not just on CA, but on the software industry as a whole.

          That was the consensus of a group of industry analysts and CA watchers interviewed by Computerworld US this week after Wang, 58, announced that he was stepping down as chairman of the massive software company he co-founded more than 25 years.

          Not surprisingly, filling his seat is CA president and CEO Sanjay Kumar, who took the company's reins when Wang stepped down from the CEO position two years ago.

          Known for growing the company by way of acquisitions, Wang -- and CA -- also acquired a reputation for gobbling companies, gutting them and giving the inherited customers short shrift. To some, Wang's departure shows that he decided to turn CA over to the soft-spoken Kumar, who could cast the company in a more attractive light.

          The move seems to "further support and validate Sanjay's approach, which appears to have had definite and positive results on the way CA does business," says Sherry Irwin, chairman of the Toronto-based Canadian Software Asset Management Users' Group.

          In a statement, Wang says, "I am pleased to have completed the transition of leadership to Sanjay, who has been a trusted colleague and a valuable partner, in a smooth and orderly way." In light of that, many analysts say they don't expect much change in how Islandia, New York-based CA does business.

          Although Wang and Kumar were unavailable for comment, in a Computerworld US interview earlier this year, Kumar noted that the old CA management style created some obstacles.

          "I think we've all grown up," Kumar said at the time. "I think if you talk to Charles today about the company . . . he would say, 'Often we were very black and white about things.' You often hear about CA holding to the letter of a contract -- I think it's that kind of behaviour [that caused problems]. At one time, we had many, many pieces of customer litigation."

          Nevertheless, even Wang's critics -- and he has plenty of them -- acknowledge his achievements. He helped invent not only a company that has raked in billions of dollars, but also the network and systems management market.

          "I think you can heap all the criticism you want on him," says Frank Dzubeck, an analyst at Communications Network Architects in Washington.

          "But he took a small Long Island-based mainframe utility company and grew it into one of the largest software companies in the industry. How he did that is open to dispute."

          Employees of the companies that CA acquired hated the idea of a buy-out because "they knew they were gone," says Dzubeck. "He was buying assets, not people, because he wasn't going to grow the business. Development wasn't his focus in life."

          Image makeover

          That image has been something that Wang and hand-picked successor Kumar have been at pains to improve upon of late.

          "One of the interesting things you've seen over the last few years is that they've moved away from growth by acquisition to growth through software development," says James Hurley, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston. They have also moved away from playing hardball with customers to making them partners, he says.

          "[Wang] built CA on the basis of a focused 'take-no-prisoners' drive for the revenue dollars, [which] alienated some but resulted in a company that employees perennially rank as one of the top places to work," says Richard Ptak, an analyst at Ptak & Associates in Amherst, New Hampshire.

          "I think Charles Wang may be one of the last of his kind we see in the IT business," says Michael Dortch, a San Francisco-based analyst at Robert Frances Group. "It seems almost impossible, in this day, age and economy, to imagine four people and one product growing into one of the oldest, largest and widely known vendors on the planet.

          "It's pretty clear that if Charles Wang hadn't existed," he says, "the IT industry would have had to invent him."

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