Has David Skok, chairman of small and hitherto obscure Web application platform supplier SilverStream Software Inc, embarked on an executive poaching expedition at Sybase Inc? More specifically, within the ranks of Powersoft Corp, the client/server tool company Sybase fused with at the end of 1995 for $875m? Given that Sybase’s effective number two behind chief executive officer Mitchell Kertzman, Dave Litwack, has just accepted Skok’s offer to become president and CEO of the latter’s Boston-based start-up – and that by so doing he becomes the sixth highly senior ex-Powersoftie at SilverStream – the suspicion seems well grounded. Litwack, former chief architect of the Powerbuilder tool that made Powersoft famous, and later president, and currently executive vice president, Products, at Sybase, is also leaving at a crucial time for the company, given that it has just battled its way back into the black less than a month after its official ‘relaunch’ at its international user group conference in Orlando.
By Gary Flood
Litwack is moreover acknowledged as the major force behind the company’s component-based ImpactNow server architecture (CI 3,135). Litwack should know at least a few faces in the company canteen at his new company; like vice president of research and development Kim Sheffield, who was his vice president engineering at Powersoft, and who patented the well-regarded DataWindows technology for him; VP sales Ed Clarke, who held the same job at Powersoft, too; three other senior sales staff from Powersoft; and VP product strategy David Dewan, a co-founder and vice president of technology at Powersoft. Apart from a chance to hang with his old buddies, why has Litwack upped ship? At Sybase Litwack was responsible for all the billion-dollar company’s product businesses; at SilverStream he heads up a company a month to six weeks away from releasing version 1.0 of any product whatsoever, and whose Web site is practically a blank sheet of HTML. The answer may lie in the team Skok has been assembling these past nine months from non-Powersoft sources, including senior technical people from Atria Software Inc, Iris Associates (the company that originally developed Notes), Lotus Development Corp, and Skok’s previous company, Watermark Software Inc. Skok points out that he actually got to know Litwack first when he was on the management board of that document image management firm, acquired by Filenet Corp for $61m in July 1995. Skok denies that he has been doing any raiding at all; Sheffield had already left Powersoft and was on a headhunter’s books when he got the call, as had Clarke and his sales torpedoes, and Litwack has simply joined based on his excitement of the possibility of the upcoming eponymous application ‘platform.’ We will have to wait until the official launch of this fabled product next month, since Skok is not prepared to say anything more than its name at the present time. Another factor apart from this product, for what it’s worth, is that Litwack is believed to have heavier family ties to the Boston area than Kertzman, who was more prepared to make the move to the Left Coast last summer after winning the job of Big Enchilada at Sybase than his fellow Bostonian. To really progress within Sybase would mean making the move to California, it seems. Kertzman has to be somewhat flummoxed by Litwack leaving – there’s a sense of ‘It’s OK, he’s leaving all his notes on the new product strategy,’ seeping out of the Emeryville HQ – and the personal closeness between the two is well known. Plus, this isn’t the only departure of a senior member of Kertzman’s team this month; another happy camper at the Orlando event, David Hsieh, VP Product Marketing for Middleware and Data Warehousing at Sybase, is also about to quit after 11 months with the firm to join a Silicon Valley investment firm; and Forte Software Inc president and chief executive Marty Sprinzen told the Hambrecht & Quist Technology Conference this week that he’d just recruited a senior sales staffer from Sybase. Healthy turnover or churning and burning? Barbed Wire plumps for the former – though we would dearly like a leak of all the exit interview transcripts Sybase HR must have on file from these past few weeks.