Mike Fields: Open Visionary

CEO saw the need for systems management tools and acted

[Editor's Note: With this article, UniNews begins a series of profiles of open systems personalities.]

Name: Michael S. Fields 
Age: 48 
Position: Chairman and CEO, OpenVision Technologies Inc. 
Birthplace: New York City 
Years in the Industry: 30 
Years in Current Position: Two 
Pet Open Systems Peeve: "Standards du jour" 
Management Philosophy: Respect the individual, inside and outside 
the company; keep the customer in mind in everything you do; 
understand the need to both compete and cooperate with other 

Mike Fields didn't know when he took a $58-a-week job working with accounting machines for a New York insurance company that he would some day become chairman and CEO of a systems management software company. What was important to him was that the job paid $6 a week more than the administrator's job he was about to take.

That decision, in 1964, and a draft notification a year later, led Fields into active duty with the Air Force. He took technical training and a job helping set up some of the most advanced Burroughs computers of the day for the Strategic Air Command. Since mid-1992 Fields has headed OpenVision, the Pleasanton, CA, startup that has been trying to establish itself as a leader in client-server systems management. But still he remembers, "I'm in this business for six bucks more a week."

Fields, who grew up on New York's Long Island, studied drafting in college but never graduated. His Air Force experience as a programmer/analyst led to a job with Burroughs, where he stayed until 1979, eventually working into sales. He remembers that his mother was present when his mentor at Burroughs informed her, "We're going to make Mike a salesman." Concerned, she replied: "But I thought he was doing so well."

From Burroughs, Fields moved to Applied Data Research (ADR) in Princeton, N.J., where he became vice president of North American sales and service. While leading a team looking for resources for a leveraged buyout in 1988 he met Lionel Pincus and William Janeway of the New York investment firm Warburg, Pincus Ventures, which eventually gave OpenVision its initial funding.

In early 1989, a few months after the sale of ADR by then-owner Ameritech to Computer Associates (CA), Fields elected not to stay with CA and joined Oracle as head of U.S. sales. Then 18 months later, Oracle had a disappointing financial quarter. Fields was offered what he calls "a battlefield commission" as president of Oracle USA.

But Fields kept his contacts with the officials at Warburg, Pincus during his stint with Oracle. It was through that collaboration that they decided to do something about the systems management problem in client-server.

In assessing the chances that a new company could succeed, Fields looked at the competition. He saw Legent and Computer Associates, two firms that then specialized only in mainframe systems management, as his potential challengers. "CA was coming out with CA/Unicenter and Legent was going to form a team to acquire technology for client-server," he says. "I wasn't worried about CA for a couple of reasons. First, I knew they would be pretty narrowly focused in the technology they were delivering. Secondly, you could do a very big business just selling to companies who refused to buy anything from CA. I was really worried about Legent-about their $175 million in revenue. I didn't think we could compete with public stock even with $25 million in funding."

However, sometime early in 1992, Legent announced a merger with Goal Systems, another mainframe systems management company. "OpenVision started that day," Fields says. "I called Bill [Janeway] up and I said 'Let's go.' There was no way they could merge two companies of that size and at the same time figure out how to move into a new paradigm. We started in June and in June Legent postponed their open systems foray for a year. There was a window of opportunity when there was no one buying products in systems management for client-server. We went after them and bought nine companies or divisions."

Since the original $25 million capital infusion, OpenVision has received additional private funding, now some $63 million in all. Fields and his management team have completed 14 acquisitions, including four companies, three company divisions, three product lines and four strategic product licenses. In the process, they have put together a 26-part product and services offering. Major customers include Wells Fargo Bank, GTE and First Boston Corp. OpenVision has added 300 customers to the 700 it acquired by buying companies and products.

Fields likes to point out that his company doesn't fit the high-tech norm. Although OpenVision follows its own technological guidelines, "It wasn't founded only on a technological vision," Fields says. "Typically you get a few smart guys in a room and you go build something and in a few years you may have a company. We started with the corporate business strategy that was necessary and decided how our technical strategy would impact our business strategy."

Fields gives credit to Asa Lanum, senior vice president of the technology division, for the company's technological leadership. "Asa has helped us develop the technical vision of what our product strategy should be and the environment that encapsulates our products," Fields declares. Foremost in that strategy was to acquire only object-based products that could be encapsulated in an object environment and interoperate across platforms, operating systems and databases in a client-server architecture.

But the technological vision had to coincide with the business strategy as well, which centered on an acquisition strategy. "We had to get the size to compete in a major market where the competitors were going to be large corporations coming from the mainframe side. So what strategy should we take from an acquisitions standpoint? If we just went out and acquired products on the basis that most companies have used in the past - market share, market visibility-we wouldn't succeed. The most important thing was how integratable any product that we acquired was going to be. So we defined our integration environment and what things should be in a product before we acquire it. Was this product built using object design and object programming methodology? Did they define APIs that modularize things such as porting and device drivers? Did they separate backup code and separate all the peripheral functionality as objects or subsystems? Also, did they understand client-server? A lot of the applications that are coming out in client-server are not scalable because the vendors that have brought them here don't understand some of the basic things."

Once it was decided that the technology met OpenVision's integration requirements, the development team in the prospective acquisition had to agree to join the new company. "Once we had those two factors, then we sat down to talk about an acquisition opportunity," Fields says. "We immediately took the standalone product, repackaged it as an OpenVision product and started selling it. That allowed us to continue to grow, along with the substantial financing that we received. We are selling these products while we are continuing to encapsulate them with our integration strategy."

Fields is expecting to hit at least $40 million sales for calendar 1994 and notes that "We only need marginal growth in order to achieve that. We feel we can respond to much more significant growth." His long-range goal? "We believe that we can be the leader in this market, and it's all about execution. I don't say this with any arrogance, but I actually do believe that there is nothing that any of our competitors can do to stop OpenVision from being successful. The only thing that can stop us is our ability to execute."

Fields has seen the now-obvious pressing need for systems management in client-server environments since his days at Oracle. "I noticed we were delivering business-critical applications in client-server and the customer would say, 'That's nice, but how do I manage it? How do I employ it productively? How do I make it reliable? How do I secure it?' We didn't have all those features. Those are the things that were common in the traditional, mainframe world, but in the UNIX world they just weren't there. My background in this industry told me that the lack of tools in this market was going to be the bottleneck of the deployment of business-critical applications in client-server. So the push was coming from the enterprise."

He adds, "It's a very big market. We don't have to be the only winner in this market. I believe there will be a number of winners."