Respect your Competitors
Posted by rbpasker on January 20, 2008
Some people have used my post “JBoss should never have happened” to gloat about the demise of BEA and the rise of JBoss.
I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit.
Rather than being paranoid at our competitors, Paul Ambrose kept in touch with them. He had good working relationships with Ofer Ben-Shachar and Zack Rinat of Net Dynamics. He knew Joe Chung of ATG, paved the way for alliances with Vignette, and always spoke in awe of the big deals that Kiva Software landed. He never said a bad word about anyone, and always made sure that our database drivers worked as well with competitors’ server products as it did with ours. As the market shifted towards our standards-compliant product (which was the template for J2EE), he championed discussions with competitors about licensing our core server code to them.
That is not to say that he was not fiercely competitive. But the energy he gave off was always positive, and he drove us all to compete fairly and squarely by building better products and winning deals. He never saw it as a zero-sum game, where the only way we could win is if everyone else lost.
So imagine my surprise when, one day in 1998, after we uprooted a competitor in a big account, one of the engineers who had worked on the project came to me and said something to the effect of, “this is another nail in their coffin. We’re going to kick their ass, and drive them out of business.”
I was floored! I knew the both CEO and CTO of the company, and they were good people. We had met at conferences and sat on panels together. I didn’t want them to go out of business, and I channeled Paul and told him that if he wanted to keep winning, to go back to his desk and fix some bugs.
More recently, I was shocked to read the blog of a guy whose company was recently bought, as he lay into his (admittedly combative) competitors. He wrote (I’m paraphrasing here): “To all my competitors who didn’t get bought: you’re in trouble because there’s nobody left to buy you. It must be scary for you if your exit strategy is acquisition.” (Many details purposely left out for obscurity)
Here’s what I wrote him in private email:
dude, please be a little more gracious. there are still a hundred or more people out there who have been working their asses off for years and will have little or nothing to show for it. if they pull your beard, so what? maybe they’re desperate. but there’s no reason to rub it in their faces.
He wrote me back:
I wish I could be more gracious. Unfortunately, my graciousness now gets translated by our competitors as an invitation to attack us, and when that affects the people that work for me, I feel like I have a choice other than to kick them sufficiently hard in the teeth so that they don’t do it again.
Five hours later, he wrote me back again, and said he’d taken the post down.
The proper way to demonstrate leadership to your employees is not to lash out at your competitors. Learn to be a good winner. Tell your employees to go back to work: write some code, get out in the field and win deals, think up a winning marketing strategy. By showing respect towards your competitors, your employees will respect you more, not less.