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Q&A: Former Lotus CEO Papows on his move to start-up

By Don Tennant
October 16, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In January 2000, when Jeff Papows announced that he was resigning from his high-profile position as CEO of IBM subsidiary Lotus Development Corp. (see story), he was one of the most-watched CEOs in the IT industry. Now, he works out of a nondescript business center in Burlington, Mass., as president and CEO of Maptuit Corp., a start-up that makes route optimization software for the trucking industry. In a candid interview with Computerworld yesterday, Papows discussed his reasons for the switch and his calculated strategy for ensuring Maptuit reaches its destination.

Q: What has the culture shock of the change been like?

Day to day, in terms of the way your time gets spent, it's very different. I probably spent 30% of my time at Lotus communicating with the organization. When you're motivating an organization of 10,000 people, you spend an enormous amount of time ensuring that what you casually said to somebody in the men's room doesn't become an organizational manifesto for 300 people down the hall because you happened to sort of make conversation.

Jeff Papows
Jeff Papows

Q: Has it been a blow to your ego in any way?

I guess on the odd day, if I'm real honest with myself, there are some leverage points that I miss. But I don't think I was ever as tied up in that end of it as a lot of people get. I mean, there were a lot of things I had that allowed me to do a job—I had an IBM company jet and I'd spend 200 days a year in the air. But I spent those 200 days working my ass off closing business.

Q: What do you miss the most?

I miss competing with Microsoft or one central, competitive figure that you can get out of bed every morning [to challenge]. I loved competing with Microsoft. Everybody makes all these disparaging comments about Gates and the company and the monopoly and all that other stuff. You know, the greatest goddamn thing that ever happened to Lotus Notes was Microsoft Exchange. Because the rate of innovation and the competitive zeal that [Lotus had] would have never been there in anywhere near the same texture if it hadn't been for Microsoft.

Q: What was your relationship with Microsoft really like?

In my case, the way to win with your enemy was to get them very close to you and integrate everything you did with them. I remember when I came out with a Domino server that would run an Exchange client. Everybody thought I was a flaming lunatic. I had people at IBM calling me everything from a goat to a heretic. It was the smartest damn thing I ever did. At the end of the day, the better product won and we sold more Notes clients after that than we did before. But I never made people make a permanent choice that they didn't want to make. We moved a lot of the pricing to the server, and we were better off anyway.

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