Love him or hate him, retiring Computer Associates International Inc. Chairman and co-founder Charles Wang will have a lasting influence, not just on CA itself, but on the software industry overall.
That was the consensus of a handful of industry analysts and CA watchers this week, after Wang, 58, announced he was stepping down as chairman and board member of the massive systems management software vendor after a run of some 26 years.
Not surprisingly, filling his seat is CA President and CEO Sanjay Kumar, who had taken over the company's reins two years ago. Known for growing the company by way of acquisition, 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 saw the writing on the wall and decided to turn CA over to someone who could reshape it in a more attractive light, someone such as the soft-spoken Kumar.
This 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," said Sherry Irwin, chairwoman of the Canadian Software Asset Management Users' Group.
In the short term, analysts say there won't be much change in how CA does business. In a statement, Wang said: "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."
Although Wang and Kumar were unavailable for interviews, in a recent discussion, Kumar noted that the old CA management style created some obstacles.
"I think we've all grown up," said Kumar. " 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 behavior [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 -- note his achievements. He helped invent not only a company that has raked in billions in revenues, but also the network and systems management market.
"I think you can heap all the criticism you want on him," said Frank Dzubeck, analyst at Communications Network Architects Inc. a Washington-based consultancy. "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 acquired companies hated the idea of a CA buyout because "they knew they were gone," said Dzubeck. "He was buying assets, not people, because he wasn't going to grow the business. Development wasn't his focus in life."
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," said James Hurley, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. They have also moved away from playing hardball with customers to making them partners, he said.
"[Wang] built CA on the basis of a focused, 'take no prisoners' drive for the revenue dollars that alienated some, but resulted in a company that employees perennially rank as one of the top places to work," said Richard Ptak, analyst at Ptak & Associates Inc., a consultancy in Amherst, N.H.
"I think Charles Wang may be one of the last of his kind we see in the IT business," said Michael Dortch, analyst at Robert Frances Group Inc. in San Francisco. "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, the IT industry would have had to invent him."