New Lotus Chief Plays Up IBM Experience

IBM Corp. last week tapped Al Zollar to run its Lotus Development Corp. subsidiary after Jeff Papows resigned as CEO. Zollar, who officially takes over on Feb. 1, has been with IBM for 23 years, spending the first 10 as a field systems engineer responsible for helping customers implement networks, and the past 13 years in a variety of management roles.

Zollar spoke last week with Network World writers John Fontana and Marc Songini about the challenges of leading Lotus, which is locked in a battle with Microsoft Corp. for supremacy in the messaging/collaboration software market while also trying to establish itself as a leader in knowledge-management technology.

Q: As a longtime IBMer, what do you bring to a subsidiary as seemingly independent as Lotus?

A: I've had a lot of different experiences at IBM, but two of them have really helped me understand what it is like to be in a smaller company. I was the senior-most IBM guy attached to Tivoli, and I had responsibilities for integrating the IBM people into Tivoli. Most recently, the Dascom acquisition that we completed under the Network Computing Software Division gave me the chance to work very carefully with the people of Dascom so they felt good about the way we integrated them into IBM. So I have an understanding of some of the cultural issues that can exist when you are in this situation.

Q: How do you best address customer fears that the culture of Lotus will go away with the arrival of an IBM veteran?

A: It is funny, a lot of people are looking at this as "Here is a longtime IBMer vs. a longtime Lotus person or someone else from the industry." You should look at this from the perspective of this being an inside person vs. an outside person. With the experience that I have had inside IBM, and working with Lotus, Tivoli and other people, I can help the team attack the markets that we want to succeed in so customers will get the best of IBM.

Q: How would you describe your management style?

A: I try to come in, listen to people and let them know I want to be an enabler and someone who can help the entire team succeed. I hope that my ears get real big and my mouth shrinks a little bit, so I can really lead the team effectively.

Q: What are the three most important technologies or programs underway at Lotus, and will they change in the foreseeable future?

A: Technically, I'm not on the job until Feb. 1, so I would not want to presume that I know a lot about all the things that are going on here. But it is very clear to me that organizations of all types are striving to become perpetual learning organizations, and the base of that is messaging and collaboration.

Q: Lotus has had trouble delivering major software products on time, most notably Notes/ Domino R5. How will you address that situation?

A: I am in a learning mode. But if you look at any big software projects, you see similar results.

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