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The changing of the guard at Onyx

A former Lucent vice president takes over as CEO.

Onyx Software Corp. has named Janice P. Anderson its new CEO and chairman of the board.

The former Lucent Technologies vice president takes over for Brent Frei, the company's co-founder who announced in January that he would be stepping down. That kicked off a worldwide search for a new executive to lead the Bellevue, Wash.-based midmarket CRM provider.

Ironically, Anderson said she applied for the job a few days before the Onyx's executive recruiter could contact her.

"I hit them first," she told

For Anderson, Onyx is the latest stop in a career that began at AT&T in the early 1980s. There, she ran the Canadian arm of the company's fledgling computer product division. By 1997, Anderson had risen to vice president of Lucent's CRM business unit, where she supervised a team of 2,000 employees. She left in 2001 to take over as CEO of CompanyDNA, a maker of software for the incentives industry. She also led business intelligence applications vendor Panorama Software.

Anderson has her work cut out for her at Onyx, a company trying to differentiate itself in CRM's crowded midmarket. To do so, Onyx has embedded its CRM software in partners' technology and emphasized its commitment to vertical markets, like the public sector.

"Doing more of that is going to produce good results," Anderson said.

Analyst Denis Pombriant, principal with Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research Group, agreed.

"Onyx is doing some smart things by looking at places where it can be unique and build a unique brand," he said. "There are too many people out there still trying to sell a vanilla CRM product. To go head to head with Siebel is a losing proposition."

Frei, the Microsoft developer who founded Onyx in 1994 and later took it public, will remain a member of the board of directors and will continue as a full-time member of the executive team to assist Anderson during the transition.

His departure comes at a time when new blood is entering the CRM leadership ranks. Another of the industry's early leaders, Tom Siebel, stepped down last month from the company that he founded. Former IBM sales chief Michael Lawrie has taken over as CEO of Siebel Systems Inc.

"Onyx always needed a more seasoned CEO," said Chris Selland, vice president of sell-side research at Boston-based Aberdeen Group. "They've suffered over the years from not having that. It's a move they should have made a long time ago."

Onyx has faced its share of red ink, but in its most recent quarterly earnings, it said it had reduced its losses. In the first quarter, revenue held steady when compared to Q1 of 2003, but its net loss fell from $3.4 million to $600,000.

"It looks like the company is on the right positive stream," Anderson said. "What I think needs to happen is a much more productive use of the sales and marketing people and dollars."

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