A year after leaving Lotus Development, former CEO Jeff Papows says his decision was based on IBM's growing integration with the company and that he is watching closely as his former colleagues struggle to rebound and maintain their lead in the collaboration market.
Papows, who spent four of his eight years at Lotus as CEO, says leaving the company was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make. "I loved that place, I still love that place." He says he still gets hundreds of e-mails from former Lotus colleagues.
But Papows said he left when it became obvious IBM would take a much greater role in the company.
"For the first three years IBM left us alone and we made our milestones," Papows says. "But over the last couple of years, as some IBM units struggled, we started to get pressure to do more back-end integration."
It was the beginning of the end.
Papows is now the CEO of Maptuit, an application service provider. He is also the chairman of the board of Zixit, which provides secure messaging software, and on the board of IT Factory, a Lotus Business Partner. Later this month, IT Factory will deliver a Zixit plug-in for Lotus Notes in a move orchestrated by Papows.
"I've spent my entire career with a publicly traded company," Papows says. "As Lotus became a less independent company, my thought was that my true skills would get less of a workout. This late in my career wasn't the time to be running a lab for IBM."
He said a Wall Street Journal article in April 1999 that questioned his military and educational background had nothing to do with his leaving. IBM executives "never brought it up", he said, and CEO Lou Gerstner advised him to ignore it and let it become "last week's fish wrapper".
In Papows' place is Al Zollar, who appears better suited to follow the IBM path. He spent 23 years with the company before taking over at Lotus in January 2000.
Zollar may have the company on a fast track to integration with IBM, after last week when he announced in an internal memo that Lotus would be restructured. Many observers feel the restructuring will more closely align the company with IBM. It may also be designed to repair an executive exodus that plagued the company last year.
Regardless, Papows says Zollar, whom he helped for the first six months of last year to transition into his new role, faces many challenges.
"The whole situation breaks my heart," Papows says. "We were on top of the world through 1999 and some how in a year the wheels have started to come off."
Lotus has not shipped a major product since R5 was released in March 1999 under Papows' watch. Attrition has also hurt the development staff at Lotus and Iris, the brains behind the Notes technology.
"Al is a great guy, he leads an extraordinarily important company with an amazing technology, but they have some people issues to work through," Papows says. "I wish them all the luck in the world."