BEA employees hold 'wake' for company

Now that the acquisition by Oracle is formal, mixed emotions set in

BEA Systems employees gathered at a Silicon Valley restaurant Wednesday for what was loosely termed a "wake" to recognize that the company no longer exists as an independent, publicly owned company but has become part of Oracle.

Several dozen employees attended the event, which featured a humorous, makeshift casket in the corner of the room. While some at the gathering could lose their jobs as Oracle merges the two companies, the event nonetheless seemed to be a cheery gathering.

Two employees, speaking under condition of anonymity, offered perspectives on the merger, waxing philosophically about Oracle buying the company for $8.5 billion. That deal officially closed this week. "Nineteen dollars and 38 cents [per share] is a great price," one employee said. "At some point, Oracle offered a fair price, and the board has a fiduciary responsibility to accept it. If they don’t accept it, they essentially get their butts sued off in shareholder lawsuits," said the employee.

Another BEA employee said the merger makes sense. "I think it's actually a very good, powerful synergy between the companies," the employee said. "I'm excited about the prospect of the combined entity moving forward," said that BEA worker.

The world has changed, this employee said. Twenty years ago, there were hundreds of [software vendors] competing for business. Now, there are a few established software companies and many embryonic software companies looking to seed the market.

Oracle bought BEA to fill gaps in its product line, the first employee said, "They had to buy BEA from a market perspective."

Still, the absorption of BEA into Oracle represents a loss. "What's a shame is that it was a great place to work, and many of us who are here tonight were just kind of commenting that [working at BEA was] the highlight of our careers. We had so much opportunity, and we really made a difference," said the first employee, who could be let go as soon as next week. "A number of people will not be offered positions," the worker said. "To the best of my knowledge, I won't be offered a position. I'm not on the list. [But] I don't bear Oracle any malice. I am sad at the passing of BEA because it was just really a great place to work," the employee said.

The BEA official expressed concern about employees, such as entry-level programmers and administrative assistants, who could see their good salaries go away. It costs a lot to live in the San Jose, Calif., area, the employee noted. The uncertainty has been an issue to grapple with: "The good news is that BEA took care of us," said the employee, through generous severance packages, including a year's salary for most vice presidents and three months for rank-and-file employees. "I think BEA did the best it could in putting together plans to take care of employees," said the employee.

The employee expects to get picked up by another company. Despite dire news about the economy, there are jobs out there, and venture capitalists have plenty of money to spend, the employee said. "I know that companies like Cisco are hiring. We know that companies like NetApp are hiring," said the employee. There also are startups with jobs.

Beyond potential job loss, the BEA employees are also concerned about what would happen to both the BEA employees who remain and the BEA strengths they offer. Oracle has absorbed so many companies that it misses individual opportunities with each company it buys, the employee said. "It's not clear that they're integrating the companies as efficiently as they could," said the employee.

"Sometimes they lay off the right people, sometimes they lay off the wrong people," the employee said. When the wrong person is let go, products and services suffer, the employee added.

As far as the fate of BEA products, the employee said BEA's WebLogic Server application server is an obvious choice to stay because of market leadership. "For the rest, it’s really up in the air," the employee said.

Oracle declined to comment for this article. But a Frequently Asked Questions section on Oracle's BEA acquisition Web page states that BEA products are "expected to evolve into components of [Oracle] Fusion middleware" with Oracle and BEA development teams to jointly develop new products based on open standards and SOA.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.