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McClatchy-Tribune  09/03/2014 12:01 AM ET
Detroit Free Press Tom Walsh column [Detroit Free Press :: ]

Sept. 03--While there may be some short-term relief that Compuware's ownership tussle is at an end, state and city public officials must seize the moment and double down on efforts to make the region more attractive to high-technology companies.

That means upgrading the talent of our workforce. Making our cities more liveable, walkable, more interesting for the young talent innovative companies want to recruit.

Think about it. How far along would the nascent revival of Detroit's downtown be if Peter Karmanos hadn't cut a deal in 1999 with then-Mayor Dennis Archer to move the headquarters to downtown Detroit in 2003 from suburban Farmington Hills?

Would Dan Gilbert have been as eager to move Quicken Loans downtown from Livonia seven years later, then buy up 60 downtown properties and have 12,000 Quicken-affiliates workers based in Detroit?

Would Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan have relocated 3,400 workers into two Renaissance Center towers in 2012, bringing BCBSM employment downtown to 6,400 people in five buildings?

Compuware has a smaller presence in Detroit now than some of the employers that followed its lead, but it remains a key corporate leader in a city that needs more of them. It's one of the key private backers of the M-1 Rail streetcar project, along with Gilbert, Roger Penske, General Motors and others.

After the $2.5-billion sale to equity firm Thoma Bravo was announced early Tuesday, Compuware CEO Bob Paul immediately assured the headquarters remains "firmly entrenched in Detroit." He sought a reassuring spin for the tech company's 1,200 Detroit-based employees and those concerned about possible loss of a major corporate citizen that's been a leader in efforts to revive Detroit's downtown core.

No one knows for sure what will become of Compuware in a few years' time -- the world of technology changes too fast -- but it's good news for Detroit, as Paul pointed out, that Compuware's buyer is not a direct strategic competitor. Another software outfit might be inclined to quickly uproot Compuware from Detroit and consolidate operations and staff somewhere in Seattle, Sacramento, Calif., or Bangalore, India.

It's also good to see that Compuware is valuable enough to get private equity investment firm to pony up so much money.

"At least it didn't end up like the Silverdome," quipped Jason Vines, who worked briefly in a communications role for Compuware cofounder and former CEO Peter Karmanos in 2008. The Silverdome, former home of the Detroit Lions, was sold at auction in 2010 by the city of Pontiac for a paltry $583,000, barely one-third of the city's annual cost for maintenance of the old stadium.

Karmanos, who turned over the CEO reins to Paul in 2011 but then left Compuware last year in a bitter dispute over his consulting contract and stock options, set a tone of community engagement at the firm years earlier, supporting a host of charities, most prominently the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, named for his first wife, who died of breast cancer in 1989.

Paul -- back when he was president and chief operating officer of Compuware -- chaired the American Heart Association's 2010 Heart Ball fund-raiser in Detroit, stepping in to fill a void left when General Motors, whose executives had chaired the ball for the previous 10 years, was on the philanthropy sideline in the immediate wake of its 2009 bankruptcy and bailout.

Paul and the existing Compuware management team will continue to lead the firm, following completion of the sale to Thoma Bravo, expected early next year.

The new owner-to-be is experienced in working with software firms and existing management to improve operations.

"They really do know what they're doing," Paul said Tuesday. "They understand technology. They've got a great track record of working with existing management teams to improve the businesses, which is great for our employees and great for our customers."

He wasn't as forthcoming about speculation that Compuware may sell its headquarters building on Campus Martius in a sale-lease back transaction, saying only that the decision about the building is not directly affected by the corporate ownership deal.

"We'll continue to remain involved in the community," Paul said, but admitted that he's not sure to what extent in the future.

"Obviously with new owners, we'll have to figure out what their history has been -- and their philosophy around that -- moving forward. But I wouldn't see much of a change from what we've been doing recently," Paul said.

In other words, there's plenty that's still unknown about Compuware's future -- and every reason for the private and public sector leadership in the region to show the new owners and existing management lots of interest and encouragement.

Contact Tom Walsh: 313-223-4430 or twalsh@freepress.com, Follow him on Twitter @TomWalsh_freep.

 

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