CA CEO talks about legal, business challenges

CA CEO talks about legal, business challenges

CA CEO, John Swainson talks about civil action against CA co-founder Charles Wang

In an exclusive interview with Computerworld editor in chief Don Tennant at CA World in Las Vegas on Tuesday, CA president and CEO John Swainson spoke candidly about a range of issues confronting his company, including the prospects for taking civil action against CA co-founder Charles Wang. Excerpts from the interview follow:

There was quite a bit of acrimony between IBM and CA in 2004. CA's Mark Barrenechea in April of that year said software was an "afterthought" at IBM, and he called Steve Mills, the head of IBM's software business and your boss, the "VP of afterthought." How'd the conversation with Mills go when you told him less than six months later that you were going to take the CA job?

That was not an easy conversation, because I worked for Steve for 13 years. I had and have great respect for him. He has done an incredible job building a business inside a company that didn't historically value software. There's a nugget of truth in what Mark was saying - software was an afterthought at IBM at one point in time. Steve has changed that.

So clearly, when I told Steve I was leaving, that was a painful discussion for him. It was personally painful, and it was business painful. But I kept it very professional, he kept it very professional, and it has remained a professional relationship ever since, even though we compete like mad.

What struck me when you got the CA job was that CA really scored a coup by snagging IBM's WebSphere guy. In what ways has CA benefited specifically from your WebSphere background?

In one way, my experience with WebSphere isn't directly applicable to CA. CA is not in that business. WebSphere is an application runtime. CA, with a couple of very minor exceptions, doesn't make application runtimes. We're in an area of the business where I hadn't spent any time in my career.

However, that being said, the process of building WebSphere was somewhat analogous to the process that we're going through at CA right now. You've got customers with all this historical stuff, whether it's Windows or mainframes or Unix or whatever the heck it is, and they now need some way of tying it all together -- being able to see what's going on, being able to manage it, being able to secure it, and being able to add new stuff on top of it without having the whole thing collapse. So there are parallels to the process.

After the accounting fraud that took down your predecessor, Sanjay Kumar, did the board of directors adopt a policy stipulating that the positions of chairman and CEO would not be held by the same person at CA? Is that why you're not chairman?

The policy of the board says the board is indifferent about that. The practical nature of the situation is that you had to have the chairman and the CEO separate. The chairman's role for the last two years has been, and will continue to be for a little while longer, anyway, to deal with the regulators, the legal issues, all of that sort of external stuff, leaving the CEO to deal with running the company. There may come a time when it makes sense to combine them, but that was not the time.

Clearly, in a stable company where you've got a board that is well-formed and focused on your business processes and priorities, I actually think in those environments, having the CEO and chairman in one person is probably a better model. But in a time of crisis, when you have lots of stuff going on, it's better to have them separate.

Do you think that if such a policy had been in place during Kumar's tenure, some or all of the problems could have been avoided?

It's speculation. It might have helped.

Have you met Kumar?

I met him twice - once in 1999 and once in 2000, and not since then. Interesting man.

Have you ever met CA co-founder Charles Wang?

I met Charles once back in the mid-'90s. Very difficult meeting. I have not met him since then, which probably says a lot.

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