PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Ellison's $5bn bid pays off on many fronts

REDWOOD CITY, CA: When does a PR Play cost $5 billion? When it involves the most dramatic corporate showdown to hit Silicon Valley in recent memory.

REDWOOD CITY, CA: When does a PR Play cost $5 billion? When it involves the most dramatic corporate showdown to hit Silicon Valley in recent memory.

Larry Ellison, whose bank account might only be matched in size by his legendary ego, pulled off a masterstroke last week when the company he founded, software giant Oracle, blindsided the market by making a hostile bid for rival PeopleSoft for $16 a share. Ellison's move stole the thunder from PeopleSoft's management, that had only a few days earlier announced its intention to purchase rival J.D. Edwards. Oracle's move so angered PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway, a former Oracle exec, that he labeled his ex-boss a "sociopath" in The Wall Street Journal. While it isn't unusual for management of a target company to react with anger to a hostile bid, the nature of Oracle's offer makes life especially tough for PeopleSoft in the near future. Indeed that's probably the point, as Ellison could have first approached Conway behind closed doors instead of launching his bid from out of the blue, which was said to have shocked Conway and his management team. Ellison's stated plans for PeopleSoft amount to buying up its customers. Oracle plans to ditch PeopleSoft's product lines and would refuse to offer current customers tech support. Those terms and the paltry premium offered by Oracle (when announced, the $16-per-share bid was only 6% above PeopleSoft's previous day's closing price) led to speculation that Ellison's bid was more about crippling a competitor by scaring off its customers than about an acquisition. In the middle of last week, that strategy seemed to be working, as influential market research firm Gartner told its clients to postpone purchases of new software systems from PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards, citing each company's uncertain future due to the Oracle bid. While it never hurts to have $5 billion to throw around when looking to make a PR Play, Ellison proved it's not just the size of your bid, it's how you use it.

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