Software Giant's Hardware Kings

A passion for digital and other high-tech equipment links Computer Associates' two top executives.

Bonding between top managers can happen over balance sheets, fine art, charity events, golf -- or sometimes not at all. At Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) in Islandia, N.Y., the world's third-largest independent software company, Chairman and CEO Charles Wang shares much in common with President and COO Sanjay Kumar. Both are immigrants. Wang moved from Shanghai to Queens, N.Y., at age 8. Kumar immigrated to South Carolina from Colombo, Sri Lanka, at 14. Both are determined and ambitious. Wang, now 54, started CA on credit cards in 1976 when he was just 31. At 36, Kumar is one of the youngest presidents of an IndustryWeek 1000 company. But what really excites these two executives -- and helps to cement their professional relationship on a personal level -- are tiny cell phones, DVD players, and other gizmos. "Charles is a gadget freak," exclaimed Kumar at a December charity event at toy store FAO Schwarz where he was searching for Deluxe Odyssey Atlasphere, the computer-based atlas and globe that can be changed to keep up with political developments and also spurts out facts including population and weather as well as local music when a user touches a particular country. "I rely on Sanjay for what's new and what's best," says Wang. Wang and Kumar struck up a relationship in 1987 when CA acquired Dallas-based Uccel Corp. where Kumar directed software development. At CA Kumar, who began writing computer programs in high school, worked in planning, development, and operations and became a Wang protg. Promoted to executive vice president of operations in 1993, Kumar took the president title a year later. Today Kumar handles day-to-day operations and oversees CA's 11,400 employees. Together he and Wang have acquired -- and then integrated into the unusual CA corporate culture -- more than 30 companies (out of more than 60 total) and pushed sales up from $842 million in 1988 to $4.7 billion a decade later. Last December IW named CA's Neugents -- a kind of intelligent agent used for market forecasting, monitoring manufacturing processes, and even predicting IT system crashes -- a 1998 Technology of the Year. But growth and innovation have not always come easily. Wang and Kumar have battled everything from lawsuits by disgruntled customers to a volatile stock price. A year ago, when CA failed to acquire Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) in a hostile takeover, CSC sued CA for bullying and bribery. Last August CA's shares plummeted to 26 from a high of 611516 when the company issued a warning on weak sales thanks to the Year 2000 glitch and Asia's economic problems. Since then the stock price has climbed back into the high 40s. When the going gets tough, Kumar pulls out the toys. "They're going to surgically implant a phone in his ear. Then they'll implant a fax. I'm sure he has a computer somewhere in his head," quips Wang about his president. While Wang has served as a business mentor to Kumar, Kumar acts as Wang's technology guru, especially when it comes to personal hardware. Kumar can advise Wang on the latest digital equipment because he makes a habit of trying out devices before they arrive on the market. Kumar volunteers as a beta tester for Motorola Inc. cell phones. When he's in North America, he carries a three-ounce model that works here, and he uses another when in Asia or Europe. "He has all these phones, so I have to find out where he is. If he's in Asia, that's one number. In North America, it's another," says Wang. The young president discards his laptop every three months for a new one. "I have a line of people in the office who want my hand-me-downs," Kumar says. Currently he champions Toshiba's 2.9-pound Portg 3010 CT. He is trying to persuade Wang to carry a similar laptop instead of the personal digital assistant, Symbol Technologies Inc.'s Palm Pilot complete with a bar-code scanner, that the CEO favors. While Kumar savors his role as technology guru, Wang plays down his passion for devices. Ironically the man who authored two books to help executives master technology -- Techno Vision (1994, McGraw-Hill) and Techno Vision II (1997, McGraw-Hill) -- occasionally seems downright old-fashioned. The CA CEO enjoys reading words on paper and doesn't envision the Internet replacing books or changing life as we know it, at least not immediately. "I like the idea of sitting in bed flipping through the Sunday New York Times magazine, because I see things that interest me, an article, an ad, the crossword puzzle," he says. Wang jokes about his inability to program his own VCR and his reliance on the radio for weather and traffic. He travels almost half of the year, and when asked about crucial technology for the road, he quips, "my assistant" -- and not the digital variety. When pressed he admits to packing a few toys: his lightweight home theater -- a portable DVD player -- and his digital camera. Conversations between Wang and Kumar over hardware often occur on weekends when the two men and their wives eat meals together. During the week, Kumar is known to unfurl a novelty after a meeting ends, and then the race is on to find the latest model. "When we hear about a new gadget, the thrill for us comes from having it today," admits Kumar.

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