Borland's latest saviour

Can Borland's newly appointed CEO, Tod Nielsen, succeed where others have failed?

In the course of its 22 years in Silicon Valley, Borland Software has lived through its share of ups and downs.

Tod Neilsen, CEO, Borland The company announced last week that Tod Nielsen, a seasoned technology executive, will take over as president and CEO, replacing Dale Fuller, who left in July.

Nielsen knows Borland's developer audience well: He spent 12 years working on development products at Microsoft and was chief marketing officer at BEA Systems before working briefly as a senior vice president at Oracle.

But Nielsen will need a good amount of acumen to get Borland on a consistent revenue growth track. Fuller stepped down after poor second-quarter results, which were followed by a disappointing third quarter.

Borland has seen several shifts in strategic direction over the years, but Nielsen says its current path is a good one. Rather than rely on sales of standalone development tools, the company's strategy of application life cycle management embraces all phases of the development process, from gathering application requirements to testing.

After delivering the keynote at Borland's developer conference last week, Nielsen spoke to ZDNet Australia sister site CNET News.com about the company's future.

Q: Why did you come over to Borland from Oracle?

I was talking to a friend and mentor of mine and asked what he thought about me taking this job. And he said, "You know Tod, the great thing about Borland is everybody wants Borland to win." There's still this place in our heart where the industry wants Borland to succeed.
Nielsen: I've known that the next kind of career step is or has been to lead a public software company. When I was approached with the opportunity at Borland, it just sort of brought (together) everything in my career. This is the logical next step. It's a company that's been focused on developers, good partnerships, great quality, innovative products, and they're looking for someone like me that can help lead them and take them to the next level. And I said, "Gosh, this is an opportunity I can't pass up."

The last two financial quarters were disappointing. Over the years there have been a few restructurings to get the company growing. What are you going to do to break out of that and get the company on a steady growth track?
Nielsen:
Any time a company goes through a product line transition or focuses on new opportunities, there's going to be...bumps in the road. And one of the things I hope to do is really provide the vision, the clear focus and the ability to make decisions and say, "This is what we believe the future to be." We're betting on application life cycle management or software delivery optimisation, and that's going to be the space where customers want us to be leaders, and we're going to make sure that we deliver the products and services that will help us succeed there.

Looking at the company from the outside, is there anything there that concerns you? Do you think you need to do something different either operationally or strategywise?
Nielsen:
Borland needs to clearly articulate what we're doing today and our vision going forward. Everybody has the positive association with the word "Borland" and the company. But not a lot of people are up to speed on what is the current strategy, what is our mission, what is our vision for the future. I hope to be able to scream from the mountain tops and clearly articulate what it is we're doing and take that positive association people have with our brand and help them understand our vision.

So if you had to sum up your vision for the future, and your strategy, what would you say?
Nielsen:
I've been on the job for four hours now. We're working on articulating and crafting it at this conference (Borland Developers Conference). (During the keynote speech), I talked about our focus and allowing developers to ensure that they can be on budget and on time -- and how do we make software successful and deliver the business value that they need.

Sounds similar to what Borland has been talking about over the last couple of years. Do you expect any major departures?
Nielsen:
Well, yes it's absolutely similar, which is good. The issue is to make sure that we've got the attention from the broader community in our industry. There are a lot of challenges that are facing development teams and development organisations within IT: outsourcing; the need to make sure their software investments are more predictable, more accountable and manageable. Borland can have the technologies and services to help ensure that.

Do you think there's still maybe a legacy of how people view Borland that's not quite up-to-date with the latest strategies?
Nielsen:
I think the company has evolved and expanded its vision and focus. I don't necessarily think that the average person in our industry is aware of that....When I was considering taking this job, I was talking to a friend and mentor of mine and asked what he thought about me taking this job. And he said, "You know Tod, the great thing about Borland is everybody wants Borland to win." There's still this place in our heart where the industry wants Borland to succeed.

One of the other key things you can get in Borland is that, you know, we're one of the few vendors that can support the variety of platforms and the heterogeneous world that is facing developers today.
You're seeing competition from different angles. There's Eclipse, which has got a lot of ISVs for developers support. And then you have IBM, Microsoft and smaller, specialised application life cycle management companies. Competitively, how do you sort that out? How do you get through that maze for a company your size?
Nielsen:
I think you probably know the focus is really embracing Eclipse. We've got a strong brand affinity in that marketplace....We'll show what our offering is, and we work well with Eclipse. We interoperate with those guys who got some announcements this week around what we're doing with the Eclipse community. We work well with Microsoft and Visual Studio. So the goal is to use those products and that's fine. We can enable them and enhance your experience with them. I think it is the next level.

One of the other key things you can get in Borland is that, you know, we're one of the few vendors that can support the variety of platforms and the heterogeneous world that is facing developers today. We don't have a platform bias or a hardware bias or anything that we're trying to support for; we can support whatever platform a customer or a developer wants.

You have this phenomenon of the bigger company, you know, Oracle and IBM, Microsoft trying to sell more at once -- the app servers, database and tools. How does a company that's more specialised compete against that?
Nielsen:
I think for some start-ups or for some companies that are not well known certainly that is an issue. For us, we've got a brand that's, you know, 20-some years old and has the positive association with customers. So I'm not worried about that. In fact I think the investments that IBM and Microsoft and others are making in the category is great for us because it's category validation, so we can spend more of our resources on working with customers and driving results instead of evangelising the category and talking about our vision for software delivery optimisation.

I know it's early, but do you see any major management changes you need to make or hires you need to make that are obvious to you?
Nielsen:
Obviously I'm still getting up to speed, so the answer to that is no. There are some open positions that we've got, like the CTO, that we've got to get taken care of. One of the issues with some of the open head count we've had is people have been wary to join Borland till they knew who was going to be the CEO. And I think now we've dealt with uncertainty, so we can move forward and find the right people.

What's the next step for you? Are you meeting customers, meeting employees?
Nielsen:
I'm talking to the budget folks and...I just spent some time with the executive team. But I haven't had a real chance to meet any of the employees yet. So I'm going to be starting to do that. I'm actually going to do a hundred one-on-ones with employees, meet with them to get their take on where Borland is, what they want to see, and really understand kind of what the issues are internally so we can address them and go forward.

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