Sybase CEO John Chen: Tale of a Turnaround

What’s behind SAP’s acquisition of Sybase? John Chen, Sybase’s CEO, offered compelling clues in an in-depth interview shortly before the merger was announced

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Parting words

Gallant: So John, a one-sentence answer. What should people expect from Sybase in 2010? What should customers expect? What's the message for the year?

Chen: I guess the answer is they expect too much. [laughter]

I'll give you a little bit. I mean they really expect us to deliver on our vision. They are looking to us as a leader, especially in mobile enterprise computing. And we are a leader today. Ten years ago when I first did this, it was so easy. I tried to explain to people and nobody cares, nobody listens to me. They thought I was crazy. Some people who are friends of mine even told me, "Hey, John, you're taking your eye off the ball; you're going to drive this company to the ground."

Now I knew that if I continued with being the fourth or fifth player in the market, eventually this thing would run out of steam. Life should be more interesting than that. So I said -- we've got to win on something.

Now today, things are so positive, everybody is expecting a lot. But I think people need to understand that trends need to develop and it's not a one-party thing. If it's a big enough trend, there'll be a lot of parties involved. And that's going to be hard to navigate, but it's a huge reward at the end. So there needs to be a certain level of patience.

But that doesn't mean that we don't make progress. We've been making progress for three record years in a row. We're going to continue to make progress. I think, to be honest, I think people respect us having a record year. I mean a record year in a lot of things, not only financially, but in technologies and breakthroughs and all that. You talked to Cisco; you know a lot of the things that I talk about, they talk about. They may be coming at it from the point of telecom, in a network-centric way. I come at it from the software, infrastructure, server way. But we're both going after unified communications. That's the new world.

Gallant: That's absolutely true.

Chen: We're both going after that. I mean they even talked to me about it. Everybody's going after that.

Gallant: Well you should talk to him, because he's losing all his other partners really fast. And he might want to work with you more closely.

Chen: I hope so. We're always ready to rock and roll.

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