SAN FRANCISCO -- Lots of companies are dedicated to customer service, but not many businesses dedicate conference rooms to their customers as Siebel Systems Inc. does.
Customer names like IBM, Charles Schwab and Andersen Consulting adorn the rooms where Siebel plots its strategy to remind employees about the company's crusade.
Customer service isn't just good business at Siebel Systems; it is the entire business. San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel has emerged as a Silicon Valley leader by developing and selling computer software that helps companies cater to their customers.
"We are fanatical about customer satisfaction," said company founder and CEO Tom Siebel during a recent interview from his Montana ranch.
"Everything we do is built around keeping the customer satisfied."
Siebel Systems makes software for a niche known as customer relationship management, or CRM. The software helps businesses market products, track sales trends and handle customer inquiries.
The company's success has helped keep shareholders extremely satisfied. The company's stock has risen 74-fold since its initial public offering four years ago. In the last year alone, the stock has enjoyed a fivefold increase, making Tom Siebel one of the world's wealthiest men with company stock worth $4.8 billion.
Siebel, 47, who started the company in 1993, insists the riches mean little to him.
"The stock market could close for the next five years and it wouldn't matter to me," he said. "I am more interested in building a company that people can be proud of. Making a lot of noise is easy to do. Making products that people want to use isn't so easy."
The company is indeed building. Siebel Systems earned $122 million on revenues of $791 million in 1999, when Fortune magazine recognized it as the country's fastest growing company.
And last week, the company reported a second-quarter profit of $45 million, up from $24 million in the same period of 1999, while revenues more than doubled to $387 million.
"This is a company that has already exceeded everyone's best hopes," said Bob Austrian, a software analyst for Banc of America Securities in San Francisco. "Now, there is an opportunity to build a precedent-setting software company."
As hot as the CRM software market has been in recent years, it is expected to get even hotter as companies demand more sophisticated computer tools to monitor their customers' likes and dislikes. The research firm International Data Corp. predicts businesses will spend $17 billion on CRM software between now and 2003.
Tom Siebel is confident his company will capture most of the business. In the next year, he anticipates doubling the company's current payroll of 5,000 workers to 10,000 to handle the projected growth.
But Siebel's biggest threat may come from Oracle Corp., the world's second biggest software company behind Microsoft. Oracle has made CRM software one of its top priorities and claims that it ranks second in the niche behind Siebel.
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