Weiler, Landry brought in to stop decline

CAN GOLD DUST TWINS SAVE LOTUS' FORTUNES?

December 09, 1991|By Ronald Rosenberg | Ronald Rosenberg,Boston Globe

BOSTON -- Robert Weiler, Lotus Development Corp.'s marketing guru, and John Landry, who joins the company this week as its new chief technology officer, do not want to be photographed together.

"This is not the time," shrugs Mr. Weiler, Lotus senior vice president of sales and marketing since January.

"I defer to Weiler," Mr. Landry says.

Just why are these two so sensitive -- especially since they have worked as a team at four other companies, and have been friends for 14 years?

The answer lies in an industry perception that the two have been hired to fix Lotus -- Mr. Weiler as a much-needed new marketing wizard and Mr. Landry as software visionary. So for Mr. Landry and Mr. Weiler to appear together as Lotus' Gold Dust Twins without the company's other senior vice presidents -- well, it might create the wrong impression.

Impressions aside, however, this much is clear: Jim Manzi, Lotus' tough, results-only chairman, is betting his job on Mr. Landry and Mr. Weiler. After going through a raft of top executives -- nine vice presidents in the past 18 months -- and with critical product decisions just ahead, Mr. Manzi and Lotus are likely to rise or fall on the calls that Mr. Weiler and Mr. Landry make together.

Last week, the company signaled just how critical the problems are. A spokesman said Lotus is looking for ways to boost profits by cutting costs, and is examining ways to reduce a wide range of expenses including "costs related to people." Spokesman Richard Eckel said no decisions have been made on whether there will be layoffs.

In turning to Mr. Landry and Mr. Weiler, Mr. Manzi pushed aside Lotus' No. 2 man, W. Frank King III, who had been brought in from giant International Business Machines Corp. 3 1/2 years ago to instill some discipline at the laid-back Cambridge, Mass., software maker. It was a startling about-face, but Mr. King was chosen to be the fall guy for the embarrassing bugs that turned up in the company's latest version of its best-selling 1-2-3 spreadsheet, this one designed for Microsoft's hot Windows graphics system.

Today, Lotus looks like a company that has lost much of its confidence.

After owning the spreadsheet market for nearly seven years, Lotus is being hit by a tsunami of competition from such powerful rivals as Microsoft Corp. and Borland International. Lotus has seen its market share in spreadsheets decline to about 60 percent from a high of 75 percent three years ago, and it's no secret that Lotus has one of the highest cost structures among the major personal computer software players. Its stock, which hit $41 in late August, has sunk to about $20 a share.

Little wonder so much attention will be on the Gold Dust Twins. Industry observers are looking to Mr. Weiler, a no-nonsense marketing and sales specialist, and Mr. Landry, a self-taught programmer whose technical expertise and broad outlook are combined with a facile mind and mouth, to talk up the company's technology and product prowess. It's a combination that may finally give Lotus a voice capable of jawboning against technology gurus of Lotus' toughest rivals -- William Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and Philippe Kahn, Borland International president and self-proclaimed software "barbarian."

"We needed someone," Mr. Manzi says, "to articulate the technology strategy and that's John Landry's power alley."

Together, Mr. Landry and Mr. Weiler spent 10 years building McCormack & Dodge into an accounting software powerhouse in the early 1980s before it was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet.

"They have a very strong sense of what the customer wants, but they approach it from two different sides," said Frank Dodge, the co-founder of McCormack & Dodge who hired both of them.

"Bob [Weiler] has certain personality traits that bring out the best in John [Landry]," said Mr. Dodge. "They work well together but don't try to do everything themselves."

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