Time was that the only thing Charles Wang, chairman and chief executive officer of Islandia, New York based software giant Computer Associates International Inc, used to do was buy companies. These companies were typically in poor shape, having passed their prime some time before, and some were so demolished they were practically acquired off the courthouse steps. Wang’s acquisition SWAT team would then sweep in, put hordes of personnel to the pink slip sword, renegotiate contracts in CA’s favor with the assimilated vendor’s user base, slap the prefix CA on the new product portfolio, and sit back as the new division was milked for revenue. This business model of over 60 purchases since the company’s founding in 1976 was hailed variously as either brutal asset stripping, or simply as a kind of diamond-pure mainframe Realpolitik. Wang came to be seen as a kind of bete noire of the enterprise software industry, a figure salesmen used to frighten their customers with, as in If you don’t buy from us CA will buy us – and then you’ll be sorry! No-one was interested in CA’s technology vision because it didn’t have one (or at least one that anyone believed in, though various pretentious post-hoc rationalizations for the latest two or three buyouts were occasionally proffered); no-one was interested in the future developmental paths of any product, such as The ASK Group Inc’s Ingres relational database, after its June 1994 acquisition, because it was assumed there would be no further technical enhancements.
By Gary Flood
Then, from around late 1991, things started to change. For in that year CA releasing information and then software on, incredibly enough, a home grown product, one that it had actually written itself – Unicenter, a cross-platform systems management suite. Around the same time Tony Wang, Charles’ high-performance sports-car collecting brother, the man credited with patenting the CA takeover algorithm, left the company, and in retrospect it now seems that at least some of the demonic cast of Charles’ reputation is more deservedly laid at his financier brother’s door. For Charles, it turns out, is not a vicious capitalist at all, but a technologist, even rather a sweetie, given his well-known concern for humanitarian causes, such as reuniting missing children and the Operation Smile program for reconstruction of the faces of disabled youngsters. At least that has been the message the past couple of years at CA-World, the humongous (25,000 attendees, including 400 journalists from all corners of the globe where CA has bought an outlet) annual user conference it holds in hot, muggy New Orleans every July. New Orleans, incidentally, is a big fan of Computer Associates, and with good cause; the company ripped up all the streets in the historic French Quarter and downtown to install ISDN lines that hotlink the six acre Ernest N Morial conference center and local hotels to the web; and with all those thirsty CA users trawling the blues bars of Bourbon Street until all hours, stuffed after eating their alligator etouffe and other Cajun delicacies, the city makes some $40m per year off of the annual celebration of all that is CA (all the taxicab receipts have CA logos on them, for example). Last week, in temperatures so humid that Sun Microsystems Inc CEO Scott McNealy, who delivered his usual anti-Microsoft (his Javastation password is N-O To NT) gag-a-minute Java Uber Alles speech as one of the keynotes, joked that Charles always books New Orleans this time of year because it’s cheap, those taxis all bore the show’s slogan as well: The Magic Of Software. This theme, which got old pretty quickly, was repeated again and again by both Wang and his able lieutenant Sanjay Kumar, CA’s president and chief operating officer. The opening of the conference Sunday night, for example, featured an irritating magician, Franz Harary, who had two glamorous assistants, Jasmine (also, strangely enough, the name of CA’s nascent OO database, named in fact in honor of Charles’ daughter) and Tina G. (also the way Unicenter’s next version’s name, TNG, or The Next Generation, gets pronounced). Various allegedly interesting and spectacular magical things happened, then with a flash and a bang Wang himself appeared as if by… you know what. I am happy to say that CA has been able to work a lot of magic in the past year, announced Wang. And indeed CA has been going gangbusters, ramping up its Year 2000 solution, and even breathing life into what many took to be undead software lines like its Masterpiece business software line and a new version of its OpenIngres database, hailed by CA as the best rev of the software since 1989. That would probably explain why it was too exhausted to really come up with anything particularly newsworthy for CA World 1997.