by Tracy Mayor

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Thomas M. Siebel of Siebel Systems Inc.

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Chairman and CEO

Siebel Systems Inc.

If Tom Siebel took a page from Dale Carnegie, his book on sales might be titled simply How to Influence People. Skip the making friends part. Siebel, the chairman, CEO and alpha dog at Siebel Systems, is well known and much admired, although not always beloved. (And he has, in fact, written three books.)

Detractors and admirers alike say the 49-year-old is driven, demanding and competitive?a top-down manager who makes it clear, to the occasional consternation of his colleagues but to the delight of Wall Street, that business is business. One source who requested anonymity described him as “notoriously prickly.”

“Tom Siebel will run a profitable business even in a nuclear winter,” says Michael Maoz, a vice president and research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

Love him or not, Siebel’s management style has been good business for the San Mateo, Calif.-based company he founded in 1993 that defined and continues to dominate the market for customer relationship management software. Last year, BusinessWeek named Siebel one of the top 25 managers, and a February 2002 report from Gartner concluded, “Siebel remains the only true leader in the [CRM] market.” Siebel is indeed a visionary, Maoz says, but not in a technological sense. “Siebel Systems doesn’t even have a research department,” Maoz points out. “He’s not claiming that they develop cutting-edge technology.”

Instead, Siebel, both the man and the company, excel in that commodity most precious to comedians and salespeople:timing. “Siebel’s strength is identifying existing products that he feels have potential and then outselling the competition,” says Maoz. “His goal is not to be in advance of the market’s ability to absorb new products. He’s never too far ahead, and he’s never, ever behind.” And no one, fan or foe, doubts that when the dust settles, Tom Siebel will be standing tall.