The Return of Papows

FRAMINGHAM (07/24/2000) - Speaking of returns, former Lotus Development Corp. chief Jeff Papows, who we last saw in January reluctant to carry away a heavyweight crystal eagle from his farewell send-off at Lotusphere, revealed to Surrogate Buzz recently that he will return to the ranks of CEO.

The reason Papows has to stage a return in the first place can be traced back to April of last year. That's when Papows was blown out of the sky by a Wall Street Journal article alleging he had misrepresented his military aviation exploits and his academic records. For the record, Papows denied the allegations. To add insult to injury, the next month he was named in a sexual discrimination complaint.

Now some might argue that ol' Jeff will have a credibility problem when he returns this fall to lead a yet unnamed software company.

Credibility be damned! What really matters to Wall Street, IT folks and most everyone else is results. And if Papows delivers the way he did at Lotus, then April of 1999 will be just a small scab only the press will pick at.

"I'm going to say this once about all the silly stuff . . . it has no business impetus," Papows says. "I can't change it, people can think what they like. I'm doing what I'm doing . . . because I can, not because I have anything to prove.

The bottom line is when I got to Lotus - Notes was something no one had heard much of. It's now a multibillion-dollar industry."

Monetary results are the hardest to argue with.

I won't compare Papows' plight with any current events, but history says judgment is decisive in this U.S. of A when it's based on money.

How do you explain a president disgraced in a sex scandal, subsequently impeached and then surviving in office to tell about it? It's called a strong economy.

How do you explain redneck relief pitcher John Rocker, who publicly offends most every ethnic group in one hate-filled rant, yet returns to the mound after only a slap on the wrist? It's called winning, baby.

Rocker's teammates, while repulsed by his statements, had no qualms about professing their need for him and his scary fastball to ensure championship rings and long-term free-agent contracts for all.

How do you explain the implosion of dot-com stocks? It's called results, or lack thereof.

Eventually, it's all about results and little else.

And Papows has 'em. He took over Lotus in 1996 at a time when many were laughing at IBM for having paid billions for a company critics said would be rendered obsolete by the Internet. Four years later, when Papows and his eagle flew the coop, Lotus was sitting on 50 million-plus users, Microsoft Corp. was falling over itself to catch up and IBM Corp. was scrambling to use Lotus Domino to plug a hole in its e-business story.

Put that in your stock portfolio and trade it!

Since April 1999, Papows has been added to the boards of directors of three companies, including one where a top executive publicly called him a lame duck in 1999 but was smart enough to see Papows as an asset 12 months later.

"I can tell you I've been offered more chances to run or contribute to companies than I can deal with," Papows says.

If he puts up Papows-like results at his newest gig - and Surrogate Buzz won't bet against him - look for Papows in the boardroom of your nearest Fortune 1,000 company lecturing to attentive executives on how to beat adversity and come back a champ.

He can use any tale he wants to get the message across.

While Surrogate Buzz is in seclusion for another year, he can be reached at jfontana@nww.com.

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