IT Weekly Newsletter 18 September 2005

For those of us in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) press corps, the big US vendors often organise press trips to a location in Europe, where we all get a chance to meet one of their senior executives (on their way to meet major customers, or do a spot of shopping, it’s never clear which). These are usually very respectful affairs: the executive in question is, after all, very senior and accordingly expects to be treated with due deference.

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By  Peter Branton Published  September 18, 2005

Shedding new light on big money signings in London|~|Getty-Romanbody.jpg|~|Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club |~|For those of us in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) press corps, the big US vendors often organise press trips to a location in Europe, where we all get a chance to meet one of their senior executives (on their way to meet major customers, or do a spot of shopping, it’s never clear which). These are usually very respectful affairs: the executive in question is, after all, very senior and accordingly expects to be treated with due deference. The problem with such junkets is that senior executives often want to spend a lot of time in the UK (unsurprisingly perhaps, it has major enterprise accounts and the shopping is excellent). That can unfortunately mean spending rather too long with the UK press than is advisable for the sensibilities of delicate senior executives. These gentlemen are used to laying off several thousand staff that used to work for a major rival, they’re no match for the ruthlessness of press hacks used to filling 1,000 words by lunchtime. A little while ago, just after Oracle had bought a major software company (it doesn’t matter when exactly, or which major software company) Oracle’s extremely senior executive that day was Charles Phillips, president of the company and responsible for global field operations. While he fielded the first few questions with ease, the press corps soon got bored with the deferential approach. Cue raised hand from impatient hack, polite nod from Phillips and the inevitable (in the UK) question: “So how soon before you buy Siebel then Charles?” The question was met with astonishment from the (considerably less senior than Phillips) Oracle execs, bafflement from Phillips. The answer was finally given, a completely forgettable line about speculation, couldn’t possibly comment and so on. Except of course, as Phillips probably knew very well at the time, it wasn’t just idle speculation about Oracle making a bid for one of its biggest rivals. Now that Larry Ellison has adopted the Roman Abramovich approach to acquisitions (apologies to non-Chelsea fans but we’re stuck on this London theme now), few companies are off his radar screen. And Siebel clearly wasn’t one of them. So, we can’t quite say that the news that Oracle is buying Siebel has come out of the blue, it just hasn’t been that shocking. When you’re buying major companies as fast and as furiously as Larry, what is? Having problems integrating three major software firms’ product lines? Just buy another one. One headache may be working out how to integrate two very different, but powerful, egos: Ellison himself and Thomas Siebel, founder and chairman of Siebel Systems. Siebel had quit Oracle after failing to convince Ellison that there was a market in software that manages customer relations. Having founded Siebel in 1993, he built it up into one of Oracle’s greatest rivals, rarely a friendly rivalry at that. While Ellison has said that Siebel is welcome to stay with the company post-merger, it is not clear what role he will take, if any. Most industry-watchers expect him to leave sooner rather than later: the deal will make him a great deal of money and he doesn’t exactly need the work. That could prove to be the least of Oracle’s problems. Another UK hack at the above-mentioned press conference pointed out that Ellison once claimed that it was a sign a software company was in trouble when it started writing cheques rather than software. Phillips didn’t care too much for that line of questioning either. Still, he did get to meet a lot of enterprise customers at the event, and the shopping in London really is very good. ||**||

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