During his time as chief executive officer of Computer Associates International, Sanjay Kumar was one of the IT sector’s most well-respected and well-liked CEOs in recent memory. To most customers, he appeared to be a calm voice of reason and a man of superior intellect, someone who could guide the company through any challenge with ability and dignity.

How strange it is, then, to think of “Sanjay” — the simple first-name title that many CA users, and even some analysts and journalists, were fond of using to refer to him — dressed in prison fatigues, making mashed potatoes for hundreds of fellow jailbirds, or tilling soil out in the big house’s compound…perhaps sporting a leg iron.

Strange, yes…but also true. After pleading guilty to financial fraud charges in April, the disgraced former executive received his sentence this month: Twelve years in a yet-to-be-determined federal U.S. prison for his role in a financial scandal that saw CA prematurely report US$2.2 billion in software licensing revenue between 1999 to 2000.

The sentence is the final chapter to a seedy story that began to unfold in full public view in 2004. Kumar resigned that year and the legal wheels began to turn. Even though the sad tale has stretched out this long, there’s no doubt that many in the IT community are still shaking their heads over it. Living in an age where stories of corporate heads walking the perp walk are a dime a dozen, the demise of Kumar still comes as a surprise.

He was well-liked because he seemed to be more than the common platitude-uttering, glorified Herb Tarlek that all too many CEOs come across as. He was the CEO who got the technology, who knew the concerns of the community that used his company’s products.

He was the CEO who took the CA mantle from Charles Wang, who had created a corporate culture that emphasized generous charitable contributions and seemed to be carrying on that tradition. Add to all that a calm, reassuring demeanor, and it is easy to see why customers felt comfortable putting their trust in him.

And now, Kumar is exposed for what he proved himself to be: a crook. As his former company, which officially changed its name to CA after the scandal broke, moves forward by trying to ignore its recent past, users are left to wonder: “If a CEO like Sanjay shouldn’t have been trusted, which one should be?”

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