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Executive exodus at Lotus; customers wonder what it means

Exec exodus at Lotus; Customers wonder what it means

The Lotus Notes and Domino community doesn't quite know what to make of the recent resignation of some of the company's top executives. Is it an IBM-imposed exodus or an insignificant changing of the guard?

"This is a cyclical process at Lotus," company spokesman Paul LaBelle told SearchDomino. Changes, he said, have followed every leadership shift at Lotus, and this latest round of departures is no different.

"Again, there are some executive departures with Jeff Papows leaving," LaBelle said.

Former CEO Papows resigned earlier this year, months after published reports claimed he falsely represented his military record. Lotus replaced Papows with 23-year IBM veteran Al Zollar, who took over as CEO on Feb. 1.

Lotus has now confirmed that several of its key players, including the head of product development and the top two ranking sales officials, resigned last week. The executives' decision to step aside was "of their own volition," according to LaBelle.

"Too much of the (IBM) blue is showing through the yellow of Lotus," said Notes developer Peter Larsson, one of the many SearchDomino users who feel the recent resignations signal a tighter bond between Big Blue and Lotus, an IBM subsidiary.

Whether forging a closer relationship is a good idea is up for debate.

"It appears the push is on and IBM is moving in," said Salvatore DiStefano, director of research and development at InterFlow Inc., who fears Lotus products will lose their widespread market appeal.

"It's just like IBM's push to integrate WebSphere into Domino. One of the reasons we chose Lotus was because their products worked on many platforms and integrated with other products," DiStefano said.

Others worry that a gradual change in corporate culture will affect the tools Lotus produces.

"Good or bad? Time will tell," Stefan LeFleur, a groupware development manager, said. "The danger could be that Lotus Notes will go the way of many IBM products and get over-bureaucracized."

Clearly, the shake-up in the development team is the Domino community's biggest concern, with one SearchDomino user wondering if he should "give up on programming in Lotus" and another saying he and his friends are considering "switching to Java."

John Throckmorton, executive vice president of development, and Brian Bell, a senior vice president who worked on knowledge management, both stepped down.

"It's the worker bees that count, not the drones," said systems engineer Robert Howell. "A couple of suits leaving, who cares?"

"If they start losing the techies then I will become really concerned," according to IT manager Gregg Harcus.

Lotus' LaBelle doesn't deny that there is a possibility that some developers could jump ship along with Throkmorton and Bell. Yet, he said, "Lotus is still Lotus. It's business as usual."

Lotus is now searching for a permanent executive vice president of development. Jeanette Horan will fill the job on a temporary basis.

The timing of the sales force resignations is curious to some SearchDomino users given recent revelations that sales management miscalculated compensation for the company's sales force in 1999.

"To my knowledge there is no connection," LaBelle said.

Senior Vice President Pierre Van Beneden, moves from Paris to Cambridge, MA to fill the vacancy as head of sales.

"The sky is not falling," said CUSA Technologies Dan Juarez. "Relax, oh ye demons of sensationalism."

Dig Deeper on Domino Resources - Part 4

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