Interview: Inprise/Borland Chief Refocuses Company

HONG KONG (01/05/2000) - Turmoil is no stranger to Inprise Corp., the software vendor best known under its former Borland name for the Delphi, C++Builder and JBuilder development tools. Over the last 10 years the company has undergone seemingly endless strategy shifts, CEO changes and political coups, all of which have contributed to a perception of instability.

In a recent interview with Computerworld Hong Kong, Inprise/Borland interim President and CEO Dale Fuller spoke candidly about the mistakes made and lessons learned by the company in recent years. Excerpts from the interview follow:

COMPUTERWORLD HONG KONG (CW): You must have been aware of the turmoil at Inprise/Borland before taking up the CEO position in April 1999. When you walked in the door, what did you find?

DALE FULLER (DF): When I came on board, I said to myself, "Oh man, what a zoo!"

I talked with (colleagues in the company); they told me this place was really messed up. What was happening is that we've gone through at least five CEOs before I got here. Philippe Kahn is the founder. This guy is a visionary. He's brilliant, a good guy, and charismatic. And between him and myself, there were at least five people. These guys were either accountants or manufacturing people. They didn't know how to turn a computer on.

What they lost sight of was who our customer was. Our customer is the developer. We're not an Internet company. But we're the company that helped start the Internet. I'm not being like Al Gore, the vice president of the U.S., saying I invented the Internet. I know every one of the Internet companies said Yahoo started all the history. But they all started with our products. I was there. I used our products when I started my own Internet company. If you look at that, you will see this company has tremendous heritage. It has really good bones, good architecture. But why did it lose sight of its customers? I can't explain that. I don't know why. I could say the guys who were sitting in this seat didn't look.

For everything that has worked out on the Internet today, our backbone architecture is running that. We haven't got any credit for that because we've not understood how to communicate that.

CW: So in spite of all the mess, you still wanted to stay?

DF: Yeah, because Borland was one of the beginning founding fathers of the computer industry revolution. It has great gold nuggets -- great tools built inside. There's a lot of crap around it. We have to clean up a lot of stuff and continue cleaning it. We have 3 million Delphi users out there. We have a tremendous user base and they just love it. We got guys all the way back to the beginning of Microsoft that are using Borland products. That's one of the reasons I came.

Two, it was a challenge -- a gigantic challenge to say, "Hey, can I go and help this company? Get people motivated, myself motivated and help this company to grow?" It's been exciting. When I took over this company, the stock was US$2.98. Yesterday it closed at $9. So we tripled the stock in seven months.

CW: What do you think caused the stock price to rise?

DF: It's teamwork. One thing I keep telling people is that the thing CEOs forget is that they're not rock stars. They're not. If you start thinking like that, you begin to lose touch with people who made you successful. If you think you're above everyone else, you're set out to failure. And that's what happens.

We see it a lot of times. We saw it with Apple's Gil Amelio and lots of (other) people. So that's why I never want to lose touch and that's why I always (think of myself as having) the "interim" title in front of my name. I'm the interim CEO and president because I want to always remember that I can be gone tomorrow.

CW: You say some CEOs think they're rock stars and lose touch with people. Is that what happened at Borland?

DF: I think it is one of the things. I think there's probably a whole list of things. But I don't want to focus on the past. I want to focus on how we go forward, because the past really doesn't matter anymore. What we're trying to do is to take what we did well and replicate that as we go forward and avoid a lot of the pitfalls.

CW: And how did you go about doing that?

DF: For the first seven months what I was focused on was inside, fixing the company. I felt that I didn't even need to go outside and articulate anything to anyone if I couldn't deliver on product. So it was to fix the tactical problems. I will say, over the last couple of years, we've lost our vision. Now we're getting our footing back and taking stuff one step at a time. Instead of gigantic leaps, (we're) just getting back doing a lot of the hard work that wasn't done before.

So go back to Q1, we lost US$25 million; Q2, we lost $10 million; and Q3, we lost $1 million. Q1 we burned $10 million of cash; Q2 we burned $10 million of cash; and Q3 we burned zero million of cash. My CFO and I always have a joke:

Numbers don't lie. It's just hard work, and being focused. Give these guys the freedom to do what they have to do, making sure we deliver upon the promises that we make, be accountable, be measurable. That's what we do. And the real key word is "execute," which is a double-edged sword: Either you do your job or you get executed.

CW: What are the tactical issues you've tackled so far?

DF: Issues like delivering products on time, making sure the feature sets were actually what people really wanted. Starting to focus back on customers. Making sure the business principles are put in place for each product -- who wanted the product, why they wanted it, how much they're willing to pay for it. It's fundamental, just a 101 business school type of thing.

It's just hard, hard work. It's getting people refocused, to quit spending money on ridiculous things. We have no labs in the company since I've taken over, so we've been able to drive costs down, (and cause) revenue and profit to go up. We still have a long way to go.

It's also getting our sales guys focused -- not letting them go sell the future, but sell what we have today. Make sure that we're taking care of our customers -- don't go after everyone in the world, focus on core customers that we know we can deliver to.

CW: What were the mistakes that were made that caused the company to lose sight of its customers?

DF: The company gave up a year and a half ago on its core customer, which is the developer. They said, "We don't care about you anymore, we're going to focus on the enterprise." And the name was changed from Borland to Inprise. Who knows what Inprise is? But if we ask, "Who knows what Borland is," a lot of people know.

If you look at my business card, we've brought the Borland name back. So it's now Inprise/Borland. Those are the key things. We want to get back to the foundation of why the company was founded -- to build great tools for developers.

The key thing I learned in my life is to always listen to your customers.

Always get down to where they are, find out what's going on. I (started out) as a programmer in 1978, so that was my life. I did Fortran, Cobol and Pascal, and that was my game. That's why I love coming out and talking to our customers. I get to our special interest group meetings. I think that's the groundswell approach. That's what I knew back then when I was a programmer. That's what people want to see.

CW: Microsoft now has a 10 percent stake in Inprise/Borland. How does that affect the company, and what do your customers think about that?

DF: I think at first customers were wary, and they didn't know what was going on and why. When I explained to people, I said, "Listen, there's no war between us. Microsoft is a clear dominant leader in the marketplace. We have to partner with them."

Microsoft, on the other side, was wise enough to say, "These guys build some pretty good stuff. We should partner and work with them." (Microsoft) couldn't focus on (the Object Management Group's) CORBA, because they're dedicated to COM (Microsoft's Component Object Model.) They couldn't focus on Linux and Solaris, because they're dedicated to Windows. We're the Switzerland that covers everyone. We actually have a great opportunity that we can fit and play with everybody in the field. And that's why Microsoft, Sun, IBM, HP work with us and play with us. They needed us because they can't talk with each other. In fact, they hate each other. We're the guys that glue them together.

Microsoft relies on our core technology, now more so with an investment in us, which is a really good thing.

CW: If Microsoft were to be split into smaller companies, what do you think the impact on Inprise/Borland would be?

DF: I believe there would be more of an up side than a down side. If you take the AT&T situation when they broke up, there were probably 15 years of confusion that happened before they started to get their act together again -- during which a lot of companies rose up in the U.S., like GTE, and they opened up the market and became very big.

We have gone through the struggles and the wars, we're still here. We'll continue to go on, and we're profitable. There's an opportunity for us as long as we live with it and run with it. The good news is that there are always going to be developers in the world. There's always going to be a need for solutions. With the Internet, with the Linux that's taking off, with the application service providers, we provide a key piece of (the solutions) that leverage all of those technologies.

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