More than two weeks after Computer Associates (CA) management emerged victorious from a bitter proxy battle, founder Charles Wang is still wearing a wide grin. However, apart from CA's leadership triumph - won three to one over investor Sam Wyly - Mr Wang has little to smile about. He acknowledged the challenges ahead. Mr Wang, who gave up the chief executive post to Sanjay Kumar, is in Phuket, Thailand, this week to host a conference for CA customers, would-be customers and partners in Asia. He is hoping to build new bridges in the region where industry watchers say the growth is. 'There is a lot of work ahead of me, ahead of Sanjay and ahead of CA,' he said. The world's fifth-ranked software company is trying to find new customers in a global economy where technology budgets have been sliced. Much of the news about CA in the past 12 months has focused on its obstacles and mishaps. CA and its management have been on a roller-coaster ride since it reported a 69 per cent plunge in operating profits for the quarter to July 31 last year. A New York Times report questioned the software firm's accounting practices. CA dropped its pro-forma reporting practices in favour of strict adherence to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (Gaap) for its fourth-quarter results. While not illegal, pro-forma results often are difficult to understand and can put a company's performance in an unrealistically favourable light. Using Gaap, CA's fourth quarter showed a net loss of US$410 million instead of a pro-forma net operating profit of US$274 million. Earlier this year, a Gartner Group survey reported CA customers were dissatisfied and frustrated by a lack of service and support. Some of its shareholders also were frustrated, and when Mr Wyly rose to challenge CA's leadership, he had enough supporters to worry Mr Wang and Mr Kumar. The proxy fight ended with just 25 per cent support for Mr Wyly. 'We were worried. Of course, we were worried. You just don't know what was going to happen in situations such as that because some might say 'yes' and then change their minds at the last moment,' said Mr Wang, adding he would strive to win over the 25 per cent. Events of the past few months have cast a harsh spotlight on CA's weaknesses. Mr Wang said Mr Wyly's allegations that CA neglected its customers, mistreated employees and lied to its shareholders 'are complete and utter lies'. 'He was trying to demonise me, make me look bad in the eyes of everyone from shareholders, to customers, to the press, and so elevate himself. He accused me of racism, called me Emperor Wang. That was just all bad and all that spoke of the sort of person he is. We are very happy that the shareholders saw through all that,' he said. He does not deny CA's service and support have room for improvement. 'We are always going to be judged by that last customer call. There isn't such a thing as a perfect company, but at least at CA, we are constantly trying to fix things and find ways to improve. 'I say to our customers: if you have issues with the company, please escalate it. Talk to us, communication is very important. When we know what the problems are, then we can all sit down and fix it,' Mr Wang said. CA, founded in 1976, sells software which manages large computer systems in enterprises, particularly IBM mainframes. However, it was not until the 1990s that CA's business really boomed. As enterprises built more complicated networks spanning multiple cities, adopting a more heterogeneous environment, CA's business grew because its software worked with every platform. Mr Wang also saw technology trends early, acquiring companies that wrote storage and security-management software - investments which have paid off. But these are difficult days for CA. With its core mainframe business sluggish, the company has been turning to faster-growing but more competitive markets such as security and storage software. At home, and in Europe, CA faces weak corporate spending as the global economy slows and companies cut IT spending. These are challenges that plague CA's competition as well. Storage giant EMC, and CA rival BMC Software, have had recent disappointing quarterly results. CA's main competitor, Tivoli Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of IBM, has taken important deals away from CA by adopting a more aggressive pricing strategy. Tivoli can afford to sell its software for less because IBM expects to sell services as well. As CA repositions itself as an e-business vendor, it is entering new niches with its popular Jasmine ii Portal 3.0 and the new Java tools, focusing on what Mr Wang dubbed as 'eBusiness 2.0' - the post-dotcom era. This is where traditional enterprises must think about building Internet infrastructure into their IT strategies. 'People did not lose money on those [Internet] technologies because they weren't good investments for the long run. They lost money because too many people lost sight of what makes a business, a business. Actually, what history teaches us is that those who work hard and create real value for customers can really do very well by capitalising on those technology opportunities,' he said. 'Again and again, there is a continuing focus on the business fundamentals.' CA's pitch is that enterprises do not need to throw away existing technologies to connect to new ones. 'Our technology and services can help you knit together your existing platforms with new ones and scale it infinitely for the future,' he said. Much of CA's attention is on Asia, in particular Greater China, Japan, South Korea and India where, Mr Wang believes, the future is. This week will see staff and its chairman wine-and-dine Asian customers, would-be customers, partners and the media in Phuket. Mr Wang is heavily involved in CA's courtship of the region's customers, knowing that most companies decide which technology to buy based on the relationships they have with the vendors. Recently, he was involved in negotiating a deal with Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway Corp (MTRC). It is using CA's Unicenter TNG software to manage its systems and networks from one management console. MTRC head of IT Daniel Lai told ComputerWorld Hong Kong it went with TNG because of Mr Wang's personal commitment. The railway company also evaluated Tivoli's management applications. An IT manager with a Taiwan bank, who is attending the Phuket conference, said: 'Every software we evaluated worked well. OpenView, Tivoli, BMC, CA TNG were all good. But 70 per cent of the decision was made because we have a good relationship with CA and we trust Charles Wang.' It is this kind of personal involvement Mr Wang hopes will win him the hearts and minds of more businesses in Asia. It is clear CA's chairman wants to be popular, coming across as an engaging, approachable and down-to-earth personality. He knows Charles Wang is CA and the more people favour Charles Wang, the more they will favour CA. At the heart of CA's challenge is to do better in China where IBM dominates. The software market in China, according to market research firm International Data Corp (IDC), will grow at a compound annual rate of 38 per cent over the next five years to a US$6.5 billion market in 2005, against US$1.3 billion last year. IDC's report on the software market in China showed IBM led with about 6 per cent market share. CA is in the top five, after database vendors Oracle, Sybase and Informix. Mr Wang acknowledged CA had to work harder against its competitors, but claimed CA was in the first or second position in the niches it competed in - security, storage and enterprise management technologies.