It's hard to be a software star these days. The worldwide tech slump has not only hit such veterans as Oracle (ORCL) and SAP (SAP) but has also knocked newcomers such as Ariba and BroadVision to their knees. One company, though, has bucked the trend. Paris-based Business Objects (BOBJ), which makes management software, has boosted sales 14% in the past year, to $425 million. That, plus earnings of $46 million--no red ink!--has helped lift the stock 80% since September. For CEO Bernard Liautaud, 39, it's vindication after 12 years of telling a doubting world that a French software startup could hold its own.
Well, mostly French. For Business Objects is bicultural--headquarters are split between Paris and San Jose, Calif. The stock is listed on both the Paris Bourse and Nasdaq. And the suave Liautaud, who lives in Silicon Valley with his American wife and four bilingual children, shuttles back and forth monthly between France and the West Coast.
Why not simply base the company in California? The U.S. is more hospitable to entrepreneurs, Liautaud concedes, but France offers plenty of engineering talent and a more global perspective. His goal is to combine the best of both without forcing uncomfortable compromises. "Somewhere in the middle is the perfect model," he says.
The model is working for Business Objects. Launched in 1990, the company helped pioneer business-intelligence software, which helps managers analyze corporate data to make smarter decisions. Before such software existed, executives had no easy way to divine patterns in their numbers. Today, Business Objects is the unquestioned leader in the category. And it's no mystery, says Liautaud, why buyers keep coming, even during a slump: Business intelligence helps them save money and improve relations with customers. That promise has made Liautaud France's most successful software entrepreneur. Now, if he could just find a way to spend less time in the air.