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The Real Story of Informix Software and Phil White: Lessons in Business and Leadership for the Executive Team Hardcover – January 15, 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Sand Hill Publishing (January 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0972182225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0972182225
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,181,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on November 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting, if sterile, dissection of the rise and fall of one-time Silicon Valley darling Informix and their charismatic CEO, Phil White. Author Steve Martin was an Informix employee in the critical years from 1991 through 1997, and therefore speaks with the authority and insider's knowledge not found in the perspective of an outside journalist, burdened by the baggage of an interviewee's selective recall. Martin couples with the history a series of business lessons, which, while not profound, provide a succinct primer of management basics that are broadly applicable. Not the least of these lessons is the danger in allowing personal rivalries to cloud sound business judgment. In the case of Informix, an irrational focus on beating Oracle and it's obnoxious CEO, Larry Ellison, could be traced to Informix's eventual demise. While Martin is admittedly a Phil White sympathizer, he is not an apologist, and does a good job of presenting the other side of the story that was so negatively twisted by a scandal-crazed press and a US Justice Department which, in the days of Enron and WorldCom, was chomping at the bit to get a major CEO in handcuffs doing the perp walk wearing stripes. Even the most cynical critic of Informix and White must concede that the offense that ultimately sunk the Informix ship was disproportional to the consequences delivered by Judge Breyer.

This book will be most appreciated by those who have lived and worked in Silicon Valley during the days immediately preceding the Internet boom and subsequent bust, as well as those not intimidated by a fairly heavy dosage of product-related technical jargon.
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Format: Hardcover
Being a lifelong fan of Informix (past and future), it was a pleasure for me to read this book. By volume, I viewed the book as 80% or more the story of Informix, versus a treatment on business strategy: there are bulleted lists of business lessons to be observed that could have been attached to the history of nearly any software company that lived through the 1980s and 1990s. To apply these lessons to any current situation or company you may be leading, takes extra effort on behalf of the reader.

As far as Informix and its failure, this book does make the case that it was not so much the famed accounting issues, as it was a failed business and sales strategy. Few if any are aware of the true reasons why Informix slipped. The author does an accurate and important deed in setting the record straight.
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Format: Hardcover
Software businesses are hard to run. Customers all think they need slightly different code. Salespeople make promises that no one in the company knows about. Acquisitions seem to offer unlimited potential . . . but usually lead to disaster. Accounting rules don't always make a lot of sense. If you lose momentum, your key people leave for the competition. A competitor can cut your sales off at the knees with a timely new product that works. Your new products barely run when they are first introduced.

So is it any wonder that few software companies prosper in the long run?

This book seems to be primarily aimed at correcting the public record about how and why Informix Software tanked in 1997 and how the company's CEO ended up pleading guilty to a count of securities fraud and spending two months in jail.

If I take the book's material at face value, it does look like Mr. White was more guilty of being naive than of securities fraud. The explanation of the rebooking of revenues to follow more conservative accounting seems to make it abundantly clear that there was no massive fraud at Informix, despite what the newspapers said to the contrary at the time.

Any new software CEO would benefit from reading this book. Investors who are thinking about buying software stocks should also read this book and lie down until the urge to buy goes away.

People who want a serious history of Informix or its industry will find the book to be superficial and incomplete.
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Format: Hardcover
The Real Story of Informix Software and Phil White is a ticket to experiencing the roller coaster ride that was Silicon Valley of the last decade. The book succeeds on several levels - as an engaging chronicle of the DB wars of the 1990's, as an intriguing character study of Phil White, and -more subtly - as a pitch for Martin's other book, "Heavy Hitter Selling". Martin's pinpoint analysis and description of Informix' winning (and losing) sales strategies proves his sales acumen. I was also in sales at Informix during this era and frankly we were so busy "doing" it's remarkable how Martin was also able to observe and analyze so precisely while consistently blowing out his numbers and making it to the vaunted "Summit Club".

Also, Martin really makes Phil "come to life". In the book he's colorful, whereas in my memory he is bloodless - all stark steel and blonde. (That's probably because he struck terror in me and I tried to avoid him at all costs!!) It's actually a flattering portrait of the man - Martin is able to vindicate Phil even as he criticizes his mistakes.

The prose is crisp, clear and descriptive. Even though Martin is the narrator and a first-hand observer of the action recounted, he does not over tread the story. I like how he embedded contemporaneous quotes from magazine and newspaper articles. The technique allows the author to seamlessly traverse among many "voices" in the narrative. Also, the simple but cohesive structure of the year by year chronology works. Plus I liked the use of analogy. For example, comparing Informix to Oracle and Sybase via their similarity to a Chevy (reliable), a Mercedes (first class) and a Porsche (fast!, fun!) provides imagery as to how customers viewed the companies.
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