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Siebel customers care more about TCO than CEO

Tom Siebel is giving up the chief executive's job, but many of his customers don't care who steers the ship as long as the company delivers on its software promise.

Tom Siebel's surprise announcement Monday that he would be stepping down as CEO of Siebel Systems Inc. caused a stir in the marketplace, but some Siebel customers responded with a big "so what."

"It sort of means diddly," said Bob Wernly, vice president of total quality and customer relationship management for York International, in York, Pa. "Operationally, I don't think it will affect us in at least the next six to 12 months."

York, a maker of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, runs Siebel 7.5 software.

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Tom Siebel, who founded the company in 1993, said corporate governance issues were one reason that he was turning over the reins to former IBM executive J. Michael Lawrie. (Siebel will stay on as chairman of the company's board of directors.)

Whether Siebel is running the company as CEO or serving on the board of directors, analysts expect little immediate customer impact.

"For customers, I don't think it's a bad thing," said Rebecca Wetteman, vice president at Nucleus Research, in Wellesley, Mass. "From a customer perspective, I don't want to see Tom [Siebel] stepping down but rather an increased focus on making sure customers get value."

That's a sentiment echoed by Wernly.

"I think [Siebel] has to remain focused on the core of the functionality its providing the marketplace -- the field service and field sales and all the customer facing technology connected to that," he said. "For a while it was disconcerting that they were worrying about things like ERM [employee relationship management]."

Mark Selcow, president of Merced Systems Inc., in Redwood City, Calif., an early adopter of Siebel's new hosted offering, Siebel OnDemand, expects little effect too, particularly on the hosted side.

"When you have changes at the top of a company, they're usually strategy changes, and I think [Siebel's] committed to this product line," Selcow said. "It doesn't affect our relationship. We're happy."

Wetteman said she would like to see Siebel be more candid in discussing the OnDemand offering and its integration with technology from UpShot Corp., a hosted provider that Siebel acquired last year.

While new CEO Lawrie said he had no plans to make changes to Siebel's executive team, some anticipate an eventual shakeup as he brings in employees he's more comfortable with and as some of Siebel's current leadership eventually departs. Published reports have speculated that Siebel's No. 2 man, executive vice president David Schmaier, will leave.

"Hopefully [the leadership change] will have a positive impact in terms of bringing in people to breathe new life into the company," Wetteman said. "A lot of strong leaders and strong employees have left Siebel in the past 12 months. For the folks who are still there, there's some reorganization that needs to take place."

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