After working at IBM for 26 years, Swainson last November was appointed president and CEO of Computer Associates International, a 29-year-old company in need of an image makeover.
It's not that CA is in critical condition--it's on solid financial footing and has thousands of large enterprise customers. Yet, the company needs a clean break with its past.
Accounting scandals forced out its former management staff, including former CEO Sanjay Kumar, who's been indicted on charges of financial fraud. Meanwhile, CA needs to continue mending a history of antagonistic customer relations.
It also needs focus. After swallowing up dozens of companies over nearly three decades, it has to home in on the areas where it's strong, namely systems management and security, according to Swainson. That means de-emphasizing a large proportion of its bulging product portfolio.
Finally, Swainson and his team have set out some fairly ambitious financial goals for CA in the coming year, including double-digit growth in some areas.
Swainson, who officially assumed responsibility earlier this month, spoke to CNET News.com about CA's past and directing the company's future.
Q: CA has a bad reputation with some customers, which was being addressed even before you came. And there's also the accounting scandal. What do you think it's going to take for that cloud over the company to fade away?
A: Look at MCI (formerly WorldCom) or Enron. It takes a responsible management team coming in and demonstrating that they have corrected the systemic problems that led to the failings in the first place. And then they have to deliver. It takes years; it's not something where I think there are any shortcuts.
Why should customers give you a second chance if they were burned or had some bad experience?
CA, despite the fact that it may have had objectionable business practices, always had pretty good products. I think most customers recognize that it's tremendously disruptive to try and rip out the core of their infrastructure.
There are other alternatives to all of it, and if you really piss your customers off badly enough, they will go somewhere else. But I think that they have been hoping that we would address these problems, I think my coming on board has given them a little bit more hope.
One of the things I've been doing is running around the countryside telling them that we will fix the problems. We will address the issues and we will turn ourselves into the kind of partner they want to do business with. I'm deadly serious about that.
You've made some management changes already. Should we expect more?
Yeah. We will continue to refine our development organizational structure.
You competed with CA a bit when you were at IBM. What mistakes did CA make over the years?
So what mistakes did CA make? One was not investing in the infrastructure as a group. The second one was creating an overly confrontational environment with its customers. And while that has been addressed--and Sanjay started to change that--it takes a long time to get out of that mode.
Your first order of business was to look at the product strategy. CA's product portfolio is huge and it's diverse. Do you think the company needs to focus better on what, exactly, it does?
Absolutely. I think that it got huge kind of by accident. I don't think anyone set out to say, "Let's see if we can acquire one product in every category in the industry." On the other hand, when you build a company through acquisition, like we did, that kind of naturally happens. Along the way, people normally do some pruning...and we didn't do much of that pruning until recently.
With my coming in, I asked embarrassing questions like: What do we do? What do we want to be when we grow up? And how can we possibly do all these things well? And the answer to (the last) is we can't and we shouldn't. So we need to focus on a smaller number of things and do them really, really well.
You've done the review of the parts by now. So what's the good, the bad and the ugly?
The market is a tremendously efficient thing because it tends to winnow out pretty quickly the ugly and make it noneconomic.
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