CA MD moves to reassure local customers

It cannot be an easy time for Computer Associates' (CA) Australian and Pacific managing director Gavin Selkirk.

After being in the job for 12 months and posting six aggressive quarters of sales growth, Selkirk keeps a stony face when asked if fraud and obstruction of justice charges against former CA CEO Sanjay Kumar and Stephen Richards, former head of worldwide sales, are affecting customer perceptions.

"There have been rare occasions when [customer] executives have posed questions ... I'm not expecting it will [become a big issue for customers]," Selkirk says, acknowledging with a silent nod that both Kumar and Richards pleaded not guilty.

While Selkirk will not say it, he seems acutely aware that part of CA's reputation among its customers may also find itself on trial in the minds of a few.

This is not least because of how well known personalities, such as the meteoric Stephen Richards, are in Australia and New Zealand, having demonstrated that locals from the branch office really can make it big in the US.

Before his rise at the side of CA CEO Kumar in the Big Apple, the New Zealand-born, and later naturalised Australian, Richards headed up what many regarded as a phenomenal sales operation for CA down under - first in New Zealand and then in Australia before being promoted to head office.

Despite Richards' obvious fall from grace within CA, Selkirk maintains that the vendor's corporate culture combined with software and service offerings are above the unfolding courtroom drama in the US.

He maintains customers are more focused on value than ever; they are just as supportive as ever - albeit with a subtle backhander.

"The culture of the organization is set by the executive team ... we have a very large and dedicated team. We're tremendously buoyed by the positive and good comments from our customer base. That's how we measure our [corporate] culture...not by individuals," he says.

Former CA Australia public relations chief David Sanday says while he was shocked by the indictment of Kumar and Richards, he doubts CA's local operation was ever involved in the alleged activities now before US courts.

These, according to the indictment filed by the US department of Justice, include pressuring customers to illegally backdate contract dates so they were consistent with revenue guidance given to shareholders and regulators. The indictment refers to the alleged practice as "The 35 day month".

"We're shocked, it's hard to know what happened. [Having worked there] I'm confident the Australian subsidiary isn't involved," Sanday says. As for how CA will gain further traction in Australia, Selkirk feels the growth of Linux and Web services combined with the need for better network management will retain and expand the current customer base.

"Customer churn for us is very low. Ingres is going open source in early 2005 and we have a big customer base for that in Australia," Selkirk says, adding CA is also pinning substantial hope on executive vice president of product development Mark Barrenechea, whom CA lured away from Oracle in June 2003.

"He's Larry Ellison's previous right hand man. We have high hopes and expectations of where we are going," Selkirk says.

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