BEA Systems CEO Steps Aside for Fellow Founder

Relentless booster Bill Coleman moves to strategy seat in favor of Alfred Chuang.
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Updated from 6:05 p.m. EDT

Silicon Valley software shop

BEA Systems

(BEAS)

passed the CEO baton from one co-founder to another, naming COO Alfred Chuang to succeed Bill Coleman in the top executive spot.

Coleman, who will retain his position as chairman, will become the company's chief strategy officer.

"Bill and I have been working on this for quite some time and over the last two years, have been making some changes," Chuang said during an interview. "This is an interesting time for BEA, and September and October is always our planning season. Bill and I analyzed our responsibility and said 'Let's go for it.'"

During the same interview, Coleman said the move would allow him to focus on the bigger picture, and compared his new role to that of Bill Gates. Gates stepped out of the CEO position at

Microsoft

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in 2000 to become the firm's chief software architect.

"I get to do two things. One, I get to not worry about this quarter, or even this year," Coleman said. "I get to help Alfred and the company look at the advantages and the trade-offs over the next five years. This is what Bill Gates is doing. I'm loving it."

Coleman, Chuang and Ed Scott founded the company in 1995 after Coleman and Chuang left Valley neighbor

Sun Microsystems

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. BEA is known principally for its WebLogic application server, an asset it acquired when it bought the company of the same name in 1998. The hunger for application servers, or software that performs basic functions underneath more complex business software applications, fueled BEA's stock juggernaut during the late 1990s.

In his role as CEO, Coleman was a vocal supporter and

promoter of BEA's stock even as the technology spending slump became more protracted and his firm's shares seemed woefully overvalued this spring.

Since then, BEA's share price has come down dramatically with the rest of the technology market, and now trades at $10.08, or 89% of its 52-week high of $89.50. In Tuesday trading, BEA shares rose with other software names, finishing up 79 cents, or 8.5%.

"Bill has always been an aggressive promoter of the company and the stock, and clearly, he remained very positive on the outlook even as other software company were beginning to falter," said Michael Beckwith, an analyst at Robertson Stephens who rates BEA shares a buy. "That said, I think a lot of the events of the slowdown in the software sector were beyond his control, and beyond the company's control." (Robertson Stephens helped underwrite BEA's initial public offering.)

In contrast, Chuang has been perceived as a more reserved, though hands-on, operator at the company. Beckwith, who said he'd been expecting the move since July, praised Chuang for his good relations with Wall Street and Chuang said it's an area he's been concentrating on over the last six months.

"I think definitely my image that's projected on the Street is much more conservative in everything that goes on," Chuang said. "But that's one of the things that works for BEA. We're proving that we've come of age, and that we've matured to the point where we're not basing our performance on the founder and the management team's bios any more."

Coleman said, like many, he was surprised by how quickly things turned this year.

"We all in the software world, even through May, felt like this economy was going to come back pretty good during the second half of this year," Coleman said. "But when June and July happened, Alfred and I had to look at ourselves and said, 'Look, we have to do some adjusting.' I may consider myself a visionary, but I can't see 100% into the future."

Despite the trail of investors' tears, Chuang said he was energized to take over the company. While both men maintained that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn't play into the decision or its timing, Chuang acknowledge the economic impact of those events.

"This has been a wild ride -- no one could have foreseen the slowdown, the drop in spending, airplanes flying into buildings," said Chuang, noting that BEA lost two employees in the attacks. "No one could have seen any of this coming."