First Coffee for June 13, 2005

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

First Coffee for June 13, 2005

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Neil Young’s essential 1979 album Live Rust:

The Siebel Watch, Day 1

First CoffeeSM is initiating close updated coverage of Siebel today. Once the flagship company for Customer Relationship Management, today it’s a tottering giant, subjected to takeover rumors and tossing irate shareholders a bone in the form of a two and a half-cent stock quarterly dividend, the first dividend payout in the company’s history.

In late 2000 Siebel stock hit $119 a share. Today it’s $8.74, sales are falling for their fourth consecutive year and stockholders are clamoring for either a stock buyback or for the company simply to sell itself, put it out of its misery.

Tom Siebel stepped down as company head in 2004, naming Michael Lawrie as his replacement. In April Lawrie was sacked after first quarter numbers were even grimmer than expected, and George Shaheen, last seen at the wheel as Webvan ran into the ditch, named to take over. Analysts still don’t know if Shaheen’s the “save the company” guy or the “get the best price for the company” guy.

The annual meeting in Burlingame, California last week nearly descended to theater of the absurd. Institutional investor Herbert Denton, president of Providence Capital, told Mercury News’s John Boudreau that “he almost brought the phone number of Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison with him. ‘I was going to pretend I had him on the phone,’ Denton said after speaking during the meeting.”

Denton grouched that Siebel’s “a decaying asset and should be sold.” He dismissed as “distractions” the dividend – which will cost about $51 million a year, chump change to a company sitting on $2.2 billion in cash – as well as Shaheen promising to add a couple more directors to the company’s board.

Shaheen has said that Siebel wants to hang onto its cash for the possibility of future acquisitions, but hasn’t mentioned any specific targets. He’s also promised the company will cut costs, revamp their bread and butter CRM platform and simplify their sales structure, but has given no details.

Fair enough, too much detail too soon is never good. As Motley Fool Tim Beyers says, Shaheen may be “misguided” with the dividend and other moves, but there’s a turnaround plan in place – there wasn’t when he came on board in April – and he “deserves every chance” to make it work.

However, Wall Street isn’t impressed with aforesaid plan. Siebel fell 18 cents after Wednesday’s dividend announcement to $8.91. The fact that Siebel has hired Goldman, Sachs has fueled speculation that the company will be sold, although Shaheen denies that any plans for a sale are in the works, saying it’s just to help them work through “complex issues.” First CoffeeSM didn’t know Goldman, Sachs does therapy these days.

Oracle remains the most frequently-mentioned buyer. It’s no secret that Siebel was in Oracle’s takeover sights a couple years ago, and given Larry Ellison’s appetite for companies these days he might just be ready for a good meal.

Cartilage-boned Carl Icahn, who must keep moving at all times or else he drowns and whose suit jacket does a good job hiding his dorsal fin has been seen buying Siebel shares, and according to the Associated Press’s Michael Liedtke “activist hedge fund Tudor Investment Corp. has boosted its stake in the company to 5.1 percent,” while Fidelity Investments, “the company’s largest outside shareholder, recently sold 11.4 million shares” to lower its stake of Siebel to 5.7 percent.

Verizon’s new fiancée MCI today announced that it has begun its European roll-out of MCI Advantage, a portfolio of IP-based services designed for companies wanting to converge their voice and data networks.

MCI Advantage, which includes networked voice over IP and hosted IP telephony, will be introduced throughout the next year. The initial offering, MCI Advantage IP Integrated Access, is now available in the UK and will soon be available in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

With MCI Advantage IP Integrated Access on-net calls are free and integration provides access cost savings while customers use their existing PABX. Other enhancements, including DSL access, hosted and managed IP-PBX solutions, will follow later in 2005.

“Gartner is finding that VoIP is continuing to gain momentum because the technology has moved on sufficiently to make it an affordable proposition for a business,” said Neil Rickard, Research Vice President, Gartner.

PacificNet Inc., a provider of call center, CRM, and telecom services in China announced today that it is scheduled to join the new Russell Microcap Index when the Russell Investment Group reconstitutes its family of U.S. indexes on June 24.

Russell recently posted a preliminary membership list. The Russell Microcap Index will be comprised of the smallest 1,000 securities in the small-cap Russell 2000 Index plus the next 1,000 companies, based on a ranking of all U.S. equities by market capitalization.

This new index is intended to offers managers and other investors a “comprehensive, unbiased barometer to compare their performance against the genuine microcap marketplace of stocks,” according to PacificNet officials.

The Russell indexes are used by investment managers and institutional investors for index funds and as benchmarks for both passive and active investment strategies. More than $2.5 trillion in assets currently are benchmarked to them. Managers who oversee these funds purchase shares according to that company’s weighting in the index.

First CoffeeSM’s father retired a few years ago, and for something to do signed up to be a mystery shopper for Burger King. “Hey, you get free meals,” he said.

A bit higher up the food chain, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has selected New York-based Coyle Hospitality Group to “assess quality in its growing and diverse collection,” according to Kimpton officials. CHG provides quality-assurance consulting and mystery shopping exclusively to hotels, restaurants and spas worldwide.

CHG is using its InnsQore software model, a user-friendly SQL database program to meet the “unusual mystery shopping needs of the hospitality industry,” according to Kimpton officials.

David Martin, Vice President of Hotel Operations for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants said with InnsQore, “we can now instantly spot global and micro trends, create action plans, and use the data fully in concert with our other CRM programs.”

First CoffeeSM, a fan of the mystery shopper approach to customer knowledge, likes the fact that with this setup companies are able to fully customize their mystery shopping program to learn exactly what they want to learn about the customer experience they’re providing, and that the reporting is dynamic and made-to-order for the client.

“Everyone at the corporate and property level can get what they need without being bogged down with paper,” Martin said, exactly as it should be.

First CoffeeSM hopes we’re seeing the new wave of African leaders in Ugandan Andrew Rugasira, the 36-year old founder of the Rwenzori Coffee Company.  His African coffee Good is appearing on supermarket shelves in Britain this month. Written on the packaging is “Africa needs trade not aid to fight poverty.” Buy it.

“I am not looking for handouts,”  Rugasira told the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, which loudly advocates welfare-style, initiative-destroying, corruption-promoting, useless handouts.

Amen, brother. I f Africa’s leaders were as proud and sensible the entire continent would be a lot better off.

If read off-site hit for the fully-linked version. First CoffeeSM accepts no sponsored content placement, but really appreciates a kilo of Jamaican Blue Mountain Peaberry whole bean coffee.

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