Thursday, June 15, 2006

Associate This!

Why do we believe in GOD? Maybe because somewhere inside, there is a part of us who hopes that he/she is looking after us and making sure we see a fair mix of good/bad times.

My belief in GOD has started to wear down... working for CA (or Computer Associates, as it used to be called before some executives on the sixth floor of the corporate headquarters of this prestigious company figured a name change would do Computer Associate’s image some good), one of the largest software companies on planet Earth, you just hope that your patience isn’t tested every day when you come to work!

There was a small period of time when it seemed like the mess that our ex-executives created won’t haunt us now; but there seems to be some sort of voodoo on this company… its one bad news after the other (rather, news that appears bad to the Wall Street and to the media who need to spice up their columns with *hot* news).

I wonder what else can you, as a CEO do? You write down a not-so-vague vision statement for the company; streamline your management; provide a product-suite to the customers that’s hard to beat; grow products organically and by strategically acquiring products to fill voids; manage synergies between the companies and most importantly, execute these strategies well. There has been a huge change in management style since the former execs have left the CA building for good. But all the work that our CEO is doing for CA’s turnaround seems to be taking us no where. How long should you wait?

This begets the question – were our former execs that bad? There is some part of me who doesn’t blame our ex-CEOs for what they did. As I see it, the quarter to quarter reporting system creates the systemic greed. Who came up with these 4 quarters system – presenting numbers to the rocket-scientists on the Wall Street? Huge social losses are incurred when long term strategic projects are sacrificed to meet quarterly numbers. I tend to believe it puts more pressure on the execs to cook some numbers - especially when their bonus is closely tied to their ability to make those numbers. Plus, they tend to put a lot more energy on making these numbers meet than on future plans for the company, products, etc. That includes bell labs getting worried about quarter to quarter... can you ever invent transistors and mobile phones on a q2q basis? Forget it. That's why many small and medium sized firms end up remaining private even today - to reinvent themselves.

Several pundits argue that the financial architecture of Japanese companies allows them to invest in long term projects vis-a-vis American firms. It also allows Japanese firms to recover from bankruptcies without causing massive public pain. The other side of the story is of course the much touted Schumpeter's creative destruction. Pundits must not forget however that Japanese financial architecture can't survive in American Social architecture.

The Wall Street is a concentrated reflection of American society - driven, everyone to themselves, achievement oriented (which means money in America; in not-so-capitalistic-yet countries like India, it has more social dimensions), premium on youth, speed ... all of it. It isn't the CEOS that are greedy, it's everyone else too. Democracy is about awareness. As long as common junta like us remain passive and do not take active voting interest in electing quality directors, CEOs will continue to fleece them. Investors have delegated voting rights to institutional investors which allows CEOs to create sucker boards. It's amazing how much corporate dictatorship there is in an otherwise democratic country, all thanks to the "burger and gas and who cares what else" mindset.
Is this one of the hidden prices you pay for being in an aggressive capitalistic society? Anyhow, I think I will touch upon this later, someday.

For now, I feel CA needs to invest a lot more in R&D than it does currently. Microsoft, Oracle and CA spend about 24%, 20% & 20% of their operating expenses on R&D, respectively (based on 12 month data ending 05/31/2005). Looking at this, it might seem that we are on par with industry standards but to gain an edge in this market, we can not rely on older technologies and can not ride on old horses that have been keeping CA’s hopes to be a leader, alive. We need a, what they call in strategy classes in business schools, leap-frog approach to tackle the recent fiascos in CA’s management and to make up for the greed and unethical acts of some former CA execs (for which a lot of people have to pay).

CA has been doing the right things; we have hope from our management; we are acquiring the right companies – filling up voids in our product suits by offering relevant products to customers (more of this will come in news soon); can this CA management re-instate my belief in GOD?

The question I ask myself (and I hope you can answer), if you did not have the social/psychological investments with this company & the surrounding social framework (as I have), would you want to associate yourself with this company?


Anonymous said...

Hi Emm Gee,

As a CA employee, I hear ya! I don't question my belief in God. I believe he'll deliver me from this mess at CA.

I feel lied to, cheated and sold down the river. Only at CA do the execs get drivers for their cars, corporate apartments and swanky new offices on Madison Ave. All at the same time when our stock is at its lowest point in two years, and we still give our CEO a nice million bucks of restricted stock for driving the company into the ground and the good employees take it in the shorts!

Hang in there, and don't loose faith. CA may abandon you, but God never will.

Emm Gee said...

Dear Anonymous:

Thanks for taking the time to post your views. I am hopeful of a recovery too. I would give the upper management one year time to revamp/streamline the management and major/strategic business units.

Its not practical to expect wonders within a day or even a few weeks/months. The cultural/ethical changes in a company need more time than technological changes. Management changes should occur in steps; drastic steps can lead to shock to employees, customers and stockholders. CA is at a very critical stage - many changes are being done; the management has to be unbiased in their judgement and get rid of lethargy/bureaucracy/redundancy and not only catch up with the rest of the world but remain a step further. On that lines, it needs to be critical about some of the in house products (I wont take names here). If the product isn't competitive (if no one would buy that product elsewhere), why make it a CA policy to use that product for every business unit? I realize that more use of a product increases its stability and this reasoning could have something to do with the reasoning behind making every business unit use that product but I think they shouldn't have done that at the cost of some important products - the pillars of CA's business model.

Anyhow, I think I am digressing.

To comment on what you had mentioned, I think the CEOs have been justifying such perks, salaries based on the fact that they are the ones who are responsible for making important decisions about the future of a product or the company as a whole - on a much broader sense and they do take ownership of any failure too. Its a high risk job - their bonus is closely tied to their ability to meet their predictions. If they fail to meet those targets, you are right - they shouldn't get richer by the millions. Ethically, I feel they should take ownership of the blame - someone has to; and its not people like us - who keep doing our job day in and out. If these executives do not do their job properly, they should be penalized as one wrong decision of theirs affects a lot many people than one wrong desicion that an employee like me would make. In fact, my optimism sometimes sounds absurd - I still expect a bonus this year, as, irrespective of this recent fiasco with sales commissions, I kept doing my job with the same zeal. I wont get any bonus - that's another point and something that a change in culture would fix. :-)

In the end, in this capitalistic market, it boils down to the plain old supply/demand cliche'. If CA can't keep the customers/employees/shareholders happy - all of the above will try to distance themselves from them. Employees will look for better employer who can give them a better job security, better perks, better raises; Stockholders will dump this stock; customers will switch to other products.

What do you think?

Ashish Mittal said...

How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career

The Idea @ Work ~
Sounds reasonable , but ...
Consider the Traditional "plan and implement"approach to career change.Assess your interests,skills and experience;identify appropriate jobs;consult friends,colleagues,career counselors;take the plunge.
This all sounds reasonable - but it actually fosters stagnation.
You get mired in the introspection while searching for your "one true self" - a futile quest , since individuals have many possible selves.Your ideal won't necessarily find a match in the real world.
Worse , this method encourages making a big change all at once -
which can land you in the wrong job.

Sounds Crazy , but ...
Now consider the "test and learn" method:
You put several working identities into practice,refining them until they're sufficiently grounded in experience to inspire more decisive steps.You make your possible future working identities vivid,tangible and compelling - countering the tendency to grab familiar work when the unknown becomes too scary.
Reinventing your working identity takes several years - and mayland you in surprising places.
But that doesn't mean the process must be random.These tactics provide a method to the seeming madness:

Craft Experiments : Play with new professional roles on a limited but tangible scale,without compromising your current job.Try freelance assignments or bono work.MOONLIGHT ... Use sabbaticals or extended vaccations to explore new directions.

Shift Connection : Strangers can best help you see who you're becoming,providing fresh ideas uncolored by your previous identitiy.Make new connections by working for people you've long admired and can learn from.Find people - perhaps through alumni and company networks - who can help you grow into your possible new selves.

Make Sense : Infuse events with special meaning.Weave them into a story about who you're becoming.Relate that story publicly.You'll clarify your intentions,stay motivated and inspire other's support.
You're ready to chuck it all and start afresh.Just make sure you don't listen to the usual advice about changing careers.