Q&A: Sybase CEO John Chen touts a turnaround

He talked about his leadership at Sybase before the SAP acquisition was announced

Sybase CEO John Chen sat down for a wide-ranging discussion about his company's return from near-irrelevance in the late '90s, where the database software vendor is now, and what Chen sees for the future of the enterprise application market. The interview took place before SAP announced its plans to buy Sybase.

Few companies get a chance at a second life. WhenJohn Chensigned on as CEO of Sybase 12 years ago, the database software vendor was, in Chen's words, "a very, very dead company." Once a strong competitor to Oracle , Sybase had missed an opportunity to push into the enterprise application market Oracle now leads.

Over the next 10 years or so, Chen and his team helped Sybase turned around and reinvent itself as an enabler of the "unwired enterprise." Then, last month, enterprise software bigwig SAP signed a merger agreement with Sybase , citing the compmany's leadership in both mobile and in real-time analytics. The deal was valued at $5.8 billion.

Since that deal was announced, Sybase has had little to say. But in March, before rumors about the merger began circulating, John Gallant, Chief Content Officer for IDG Enterprise (IDGE), and Eric Knorr, Editor in Chief of InfoWorld , sat down with Chen for an hour-long chat as part of IDGE's CEO Interview Series. The interview explored how Chen was able to rescue Sybase and establish it as a key mobile enterprise player. The result: A discussion rare in its frankness - one that offers retroactive insight into the real reasons SAP found Sybase so attractive.

Excerpts from that interview follow.

John Gallant: You've got a pretty interesting and diverse product set. You have the database, analytics, mobile management tools, and mobile tools that are pretty widely deployed among the service providers. Help us understand how those different technologies fit into a cohesive strategy that makes Sybase unique. Sybase traditionally has been an infrastructure software provider to the enterprise. We started as a client-server database company and then moved into development toolsets when we acquired PowerSoft. And after I came on board, we continued to develop our database. Gradually, we positioned ourselves in high-growth areas, like analytics, mobile middleware, and mobile services. And how we envision that it all comes together is that we believe mobile enterprise computing is going to be the next really big thing.

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