PeopleSoft Pushes Out Conway

There are some business stories that read like steamy novels. The torrid, and often sordid, affair that has been the imbroglio between database king Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) and business software maker PeopleSoft (Nasdaq: PSFT  ) added another saucy chapter this morning when PeopleSoft's board fired CEO Craig Conway. The cause? A loss of confidence in his ability to lead the company.

But it doesn't end there. The Justice Department announced a short time ago that it would not appeal Oracle's victory last month in the antitrust trial surrounding the proposed deal. The announcement makes it even more unlikely that the European Commission, which is reviewing the deal, will oppose a merger.

That leaves PeopleSoft's management as the last remaining obstacle to an Oracle takeover bid. The now-departed Conway was, of course, the most vocal opponent of a merger. And it was his public feud with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, his former employer, which added a decidedly nasty edge to the tussle. With him gone, is the way cleared for a deal?

PeopleSoft issued an ambiguous statement on this issue, noting only that the board has been unanimous in rejecting Oracle's prior offers. A spokesman I interviewed this morning parroted that party line and declined to mention whether the software maker would meet with Oracle.

Interestingly, he also mentioned that Conway never attended the transaction committee meetings where discussions of Oracle's bid took place. The implication here is that PeopleSoft's board is independent and needed no encouragement from Conway to oppose Oracle. But I don't buy that for two reasons. First, corporate boards often fall in line with the will of the CEO, and Conway's opinion was widely known. Second, PeopleSoft has been making considerable hay over its big gains in license revenue recently, and did so again this morning. Sure, all the chest-thumping could be to assuage nervous investors. But it could also be to earn a better price tag for the business.

Unfortunately, all we have is conjecture at this point. However, clues to the outcome may lie in the background of Dave Duffield, a PeopleSoft founder, chairman, and former CEO who regains the reins today. According to PeopleSoft's statement from this morning, Duffield has sold a company he co-founded before. Systems and Computer Technology (SCT) bought the firm -- Information Associates -- in the '90s. SunGardData Systems (NYSE: SDS  ) acquired SCT in February.

Notable precedent or funny coincidence? That's tough to say for sure, but I'd bet on the former.

For more Foolish news about Oracle and PeopleSoft:

  • IBM's (NYSE: IBM  ) deal with PeopleSoft might help the firm play defense in the short term, but it won't keep Oracle away forever.
  • Oracle's latest quarterly results make an even stronger case for OracleSoft.
  • I see a strong case for the database king to acquire PeopleSoft, but fellow Fool W.D. Crotty says it is all one big headache.

What's your take? Does Conway's ouster mean the end of PeopleSoft as we've known it? Or have co-founder Duffield and the rest of the management team just begun to fight? In which case would PeopleSoft shareholders do better? Debate all this and more at the Oracle and PeopleSoft discussion boards. Only at Fool.com.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Oracle. You can view his Fool profile here.


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