Peoplesoft Is Being Swallowed by the Evil Empire

For anyone who really cares about HR, January 14, 2005 will be a black day. On that day, as many as 6,000 PeopleSoft employees will be terminated by the corporate equivalent of Darth Vader, the Oracle Corporation. There are three reasons why that day will live in on in HR infamy:

  1. As many as 6,000 of the founders, pioneers, and ardent supporters of HR technology may leave the field forever.
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  3. A cold, hard “results over people” culture will triumph over the superior people-centric culture of PeopleSoft.
  4. The field of HR will enter a freeze period that will stifle HR’s overall growth and image.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with both Oracle and PeopleSoft, and although both have their good points, when it comes to nurturing and supporting the HR profession PeopleSoft has clearly been the biggest contributor. The loss of this company and its flagship product will not only impact the growth of HR technology but also negatively affect the field of HR itself. Here are a few of the ways it will impact critical HR areas, including recruiting, metrics, reporting, and self service. 1. Say goodbye to a cadre of HR founders and visionaries. There’s little argument that “bad boy” Larry Ellison cares little about HR as a profession. HR isn’t a prime function within Oracle, nor is the HR suite a primary product within his enterprise-spanning empire. In direct contrast, PeopleSoft started as a firm focusing exclusively on HR. I would argue that its initial installation at HP was the beginning of the modern era of HR technology. Even people at the “evil empire” would have to acknowledge that the initial employees of PeopleSoft were visionaries and that they should be labeled as pioneers within the HR community. They were heroes in the sense that in addition to their product innovations, they supported HR professional organizations, they developed HR programs at universities and they frequently gave talks about the future of HR and technology. In fact, they helped lead the transformation of HR from a slow-moving overhead function into a dynamic contributor to business success. In direct contrast, Oracle has been almost invisible in HR, except in the sales field. They have done little for the general good of HR and they certainly contributed no visionaries to the profession who could be considered equivalent to PeopleSoft’s Roe Henson or Dave Duffield. Given the consolidation within the HR space, it’s likely that many of these former Peoplesoft employees may leave the HR space permanently, to the detriment of our profession. 2. A great people-focused culture will be absorbed by the dark side. Anyone who’s ever worked with Oracle notices right away that their culture is different than almost any other. Many describe it as a harsh environment where everyone works like they were, in essence, an individual contractor. Incredibly long workweeks are the norm; little emphasis is placed on teamwork; and leadership considers HR has a secondary function (“If you don’t develop software or sell software, tell me very slowly what you do around here…”). Oracle hates criticism and it has a well-earned reputation for attempting to annihilate its enemies. In contrast, the PeopleSoft culture is one of the most people-focused cultures on the planet. If you have ever had a chance to visit the PeopleSoft campus, you would find the ultimate HR-centric culture. Prior to the merger, people and people issues came first at PeopleSoft. Teamwork was everywhere, and a high degree of employee involvement and engagement was obvious. Unfortunately, this role model culture will soon be lost ó a loss not just to one company but to everyone who thinks corporations should put people first. 3. The field of HR will enter a freeze period. PeopleSoft began and remained an HR-focused company. Its focus is obvious both in its name and in its products. PeopleSoft was a driver of innovation in many HR areas, including the integration of all HR functions and strategic HR analytics. In addition, PeopleSoft helped guide HR professionals in understanding the role of technology in making HR a business partner. They also helped the HR profession learn how to build a business case for additional resources in HR. “Black Bart,” on the other hand, sees little value in building HR as a profession. It is buying PeopleSoft for its customers, and as a result, HR is losing a valuable facilitator of change. The people at Oracle will undoubtedly be focused on integrating their product and the remaining PeopleSoft workforce during the next year or more. The net result of all this integration and transition is that HR professionals within corporations that utilize or are considering the PeopleSoft product will be also be distracted with their own concerns about the PeopleSoft product. These distractions while undoubtedly mean that little progress will occur within HR technology, recruiting technology, and the development of metrics during this messy transition. As to what the new Oracle/PeopleSoft product will look like, I can only speculate, but it’s highly unlikely that it will either focus on HR or provide any exciting new innovations in the next few years. In the same light, the HR profession and its professional organizations will undoubtedly get little leadership or economic support from the distracted Oracle. Conclusion January 14 will be a sad day for the HR profession. Not only will we lose some of our most influential leaders, but we will also lose a model corporate culture and the momentum that we have built up in the development of HR and its related technology. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done at this point. Oracle is an organization that’s focused on sales, so there is little chance that they will accept or even consider adopting the important role as key leaders in the HR profession as PeopleSoft leaders did. Their massive cost-cutting efforts will undoubtedly cut out or reduce support for HR professional organizations, universities, HR white papers, and speaking tours by HR thought leaders, which helped build and drive the HR profession. Mark your calendars, because after January 14, it will be a quagmire at best or a steady downhill slippage for HR technology. If you have friends at PeopleSoft, give them a call and thank them for all that they have done. In my book, they are and always will remain heroes.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



2 Comments on “Peoplesoft Is Being Swallowed by the Evil Empire

  1. I agree with both Dr. John and Martin (no I’m not in politics!). HR stands to lose a lot from an industry leader and at the same time will probably gain a lot from those firms filling in the gaps (as we always have).

    Maybe the hard numbers Oracle types will push the HR executives to get more involved in what their CEOs and CFOs typically have on their minds and finally get that seat at the executive table (so they can also push their people programs!).

    Fortunately most of the changes at the companies using PeopleSoft will take a long time (and probably cost even more money) so there will be plenty of time for the rest of the world to react. One thing that won’t go slow is the best and brightest as they look outside for their next chance to add value to the HR marketplace.

  2. I can’t think of a time that I did not agree with Dr. Sullivan, but I think this purchase is a GOOD thing for HR Technology.

    First, Peoplesoft had high costs of doing business, and was never able to serve small and medium organizations with a reasonable price/performance ratio.

    Second, the technology business is, and should be, ruthless. If Oracle is not the one swinging the axe, it will still swing; from India, from Germany, Canada, or wherever. I have to say, if you are not selling or developing software at my company, I’d sure like to know what you are doing. That does not mean that all that we do is develop and sell; that means that if it’s off the core mission, it deserves extra scrutiny.

    Third, Peoplesoft was not innovating at any great pace; for five years we have been waiting and worried about serious competition from them in the ATS space, and it never happened. The products stayed mediocre and expensive, and Peoplesoft had the deep pockets to endure the inevitable expenses and hassles associated with bringing really innovative stuff to market but did not choose to do it.

    Fourth, this is a chance for smaller players to gain share with risk-averse large organization buyers. Because there is now a big FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) around the Peoplesoft/Oracle product line, smaller vendors might have a shot that did not exist prior to the deal. We have already seen this in a number of situations.

    Fifth, many of the Peoplsoft alum will stock those up and coming vendors with their talent, and presumably, with a lot of good ideas that were not going to see the light of day at Peoplesoft.

    Sixth, we don?t know yet how Oracle will digest this sale. It may not be as tasty as it looked, and Ellison, having driven hard to win- since that?s what he does- may find other things to interest him now that the fun part is over. It?s a balancing act to convert those clients and draw the maximum economic benefit from the sale, and that may (or may not) mean keeping some of the best of Peoplesoft intact for some time to come. One never knows how an occupation will proceed, as we have recently found to our dismay in the Middle East.

    Finally, lots of people have come to grief underestimating Mr. Ellison, who has shown that he can adapt and overcome time and again. He may yet surprise by learning some of the ways of the HR culture that he has now become a big part of; if teamwork, industry leadership, and personal sensitivity result in better earnings from the HR marketplace, we may find that he has been born-again; at least in this sphere.

    Of course, it could turn out even worse than Dr. Sullivan predicts, but this is the view from one very small competitor who feels pretty good about the deal.

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