PeopleSoft: Please ignore the ex-CEO behind the curtain

PeopleSoft Connect 2004: The software company's customer event kicked off in London in typical feel-good fashion - but with no mention of former boss Craig Conway, who was fired just three days ago

Pity the event planners behind this year's PeopleSoft Connect customer event in London.

Last Friday, the company fired chief executive Craig Conway, who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address on Monday. He was replaced by the company's founder Dave Duffield.

However, the company prides itself on its flexibility and ability to manage change, so exactly on cue on Monday another executive, Phil Wilmington, newly appointed as joint co-president along with Kevin Parker, strode on to the stage.

The usual corporate showbiz antics seemed even more out of place given PeopleSoft's long-running battle with Oracle, and the drama of the previous few days. Wilmington made his entrance at the packed Excel conference centre, where an international audience of PeopleSoft customers from all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa endured the usual blaring medley of go-go dance music. At one point this included the hit tune Lola's Theme by the Shapeshifters, with its rousing chorus of "I'm a different person!"

Wilmington was indeed a different person from the one most customers might have been expecting. After warm applause had died down, he said, "Thank you. I'd like to begin to with some comments about the announcements that were made last week. We reported incredibly strong licence results for our third quarter, evidence that PeopleSoft is competitive in the market place, and it also points to the fact that we have tremendous support from our customers. Dave Duffield will once again become PeopleSoft's CEO; we're thrilled. He brings us back to the values upon which our company was founded."

Wilmington also said that integrity, honesty, and respect were the core values for customers and employees -- remarks which should perhaps be seen in the light of emerging allegations that Conway may have been economical with the truth in his discussions with Wall Street.

Wilmington made no further reference to the ousting of chief executive Craig Conway in his speech, which mentioned contract wins, service and support improvements, and stressed the company's commitment to its customers and its strategic roadmap.

The only other remark which could be interpreted as a nod towards last week's events was one oblique line about the challenges the company has faced fending off the hostile take-over attempt by Oracle.

"It has certainly been a year that has tested our resolve -- and this week has tested some of our personal resolve. We won over 700 new customers last year, 150 of them in the last quarter. We did not blink and we will not blink," said Wilmington.