PeopleSoft, Oracle fight is a canine affair

Craig Conway and Larry Ellison trade more salvos over proposed takeover

The wrangling between PeopleSoft  and Oracle has once again gone to the dogs.

Seventeen months ago, when Oracle's bid for a hostile takeover of its rival first caused the bitter war of words between the two companies to break out, the pet Labrador of PeopleSoft's then-head, Craig Conway, became a symbolic prop. Conway charged that Oracle's suggestion it would acquire PeopleSoft but ditch its products was like someone asking to buy your dog so they can haul it out back and shoot it. Oracle's always dramatic chief, Larry Ellison, fired back that if he had a gun and Conway in the same room, it wouldn’t be the dog he'd be aiming at -- a quip that prompted Conway and his pooch to take the stage in bulletproof vests at PeopleSoft's user conference.

Thursday, as the hours tick down to the midnight tender-offer deadline that will either end Oracle's long-running campaign or increase its intensity, dogs again became the focus of heated rhetoric between Oracle and PeopleSoft executives.

The latest salvo between the two companies was sparked in a Monday presentation at a forum for shareholders. Oracle President Safra Catz pointed out several stock sales over the past year by PeopleSoft Chief Executive Officer David Duffield. Catz suggested the PeopleSoft founder saw the company's shares being artificially inflated by investor speculation about Oracle's bid and wanted to cash in on those gains.

On Thursday, Duffield sent to Ellison and released to the media a letter furiously dismissing Catz's implications. Duffield noted that all of the stock sales mentioned by Oracle except two were done, as reported in regulatory filings, through a prearranged trading plan for asset diversification over which Duffield has no discretion about sale timing. The two exceptions were sales made by Maddie's Fund, an Alameda, California, foundation that funds no-kill animal rescue and adoption programs. Duffield created Maddie's Fund and sits on its board, but he said in his letter that he is not a member of the finance committee that makes investment and stock sale decisions.

Maddie's Fund is named after a cherished Miniature Schnauzer Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, lived with for 10 years, before Maddie's death of cancer in 1997. Two years later, the Duffields created the foundation in her honor.

Duffield used his letter both to castigate Oracle's tactics and to promote Maddie's Fund. "If there is a story here, it is about the great programs that Maddie's Fund has helped create to guarantee loving homes for healthy shelter dogs and cats throughout the country. Here is a link to the Maddie's Fund Web site in case you are interested in learning about our good work," Duffield wrote to Ellison. He also worked in a threat to sue Oracle for defamation if it didn't knock off the insinuations about his stock sales.

Whatever PeopleSoft's ultimate fate, it's clear that every dog in the company will have its day.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.