The Suite Spot
Book Nook: Chatting With Customers
When a CEO uses the quaint term "high tech" to describe computers and the Internet, it's often a red-flag indicator of someone whose mental clock stopped in about 1980. And if Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, authors of Naked Conversations, are correct, any management that looks askance at corporate blogging is similarly trapped in the past. "Our passionate advice," they write, "is to join the conversation now."Scoble himself is helping Microsoft do just that. He runs Channel 9, Microsoft's interactive community for software developers. Conversations--not one-way broadcasts--get marketing-averse, PR-saturated people to pay attention to your message, the authors argue, perhaps even turning them into evangelists for your products or services. Blogs also let companies benefit from readers' collective intelligence. The authors' recipe for successful corporate blogging: Make sure blogs enable readers to leave comments. And avoid cutesy blogs written by fictional characters. An attempt by cosmetics giant L'Oreal to do just that flopped. But the company apologized and created a real blog that attracted praise and engaged customers. The message for corporate bloggers: Keep it real.
Grabbing a Bite: Debugging CA
When the Computer Associates board of directors first asked John Swainson if he was interested in becoming CEO, he practically laughed out loud. The software firm was in the midst of an accounting investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission that would ultimately cashier 15 top leaders, with at least five indicted. Swainson, meanwhile, was comfy running global software sales for IBM. "I asked whether I'd be presiding over a funeral or a rebirth," he recalls.
Six months later, in November 2004, he accepted the job, after Computer Associates had settled with the SEC for $225 million. Swainson's priorities: Stanch the bleeding, install new management, and reassure customers, mainly big banks like Citibank and software integrators like his old colleagues at IBM. Two years later, the company is stable, but Swainson is still doing damage control. This month, Computer Associates changed its name to simply CA--as it was already known in the software biz--to shed baggage associated with the old name. And the share price, about $28, has largely been stagnant.
Swainson is optimistic, however, as he gobbles a muffin in the 51st-floor coffee bar in CA's Lower Manhattan offices. CA is getting its footing, he insists, and market conditions are improving, too. The costs of complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley reform law, which crowded out other spending, seem to be easing, he believes. And after a retrenchment, Swainson sees companies starting to spend again on technology. That might provide the tailwind CA needs. "It takes a surprisingly long time to rebuild a company," Swainson admits. "Especially when the company needs to be re-engineered."
This story appears in the February 27, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.