What do you get if you cross a Texan billionaire with a chairman of the third largest independent software house in the world? Answer, a whole lot of trouble for Computer Associates (CA) as it kicks off its annual CA World customer roadshow in Orlando this week.
This is the unfortunate position faced by CA chairman Charles B Wang and president and CEO Sanjay Kumar as they square up for a boardroom bloodbath with Texas entrepreneur Sam Wyly.
Caught in the crossfire are thousands of companies around the globe that rely on CA to provide them with an IT infrastructure.
Wyly, the Texan entrepreneur, was chairman of Sterling Software before it was taken over by CA in 1998. In doing so, Wyly pocketed about $4bn and 100 shares in CA which, while not sounding like much, is enough to force a board level vote of confidence under US law.
Wyly believes that CA could significantly improve customer relations and that the answer is to wrestle power from the current board and split the monolithic company into four divisions.
Whether this is for the good of CA customers, or to further swell his already considerable coffers, is debatable.
The problem for the customers was quite rightly raised at CA World where Wang and Kumar were asked how they feel about claims that the battle has become worryingly personal. It is a question of Wyly versus Wang, rather than Wyly versus CA.
"This morning, walking through Disney World, it dawned on me that CA and Disney have a lot in common," said Wang in his introduction to the opening keynote held on Sunday. "And it's not just that some guy has Mickey Mouse plans for our company."
It is worth remembering that CA is Wang's baby. He founded the company in 1976 and has been involved ever since. Although he surrendered much of his power in handing the chief executive reigns over to Kumar in August last year, the two work together closely.
Despite this, it was clear that Wyly has ruffled the feathers of both men, with Kumar claiming that "money" is the main motive behind Wyly's move before going on to say how: "The timing was extremely opportunistic, not to mention self-serving, as well as an unfair assault on our business and our customers. To break the company into four is absolutely illogical."
No matter what is said - and there will be a lot more said over the coming months - it is extremely unlikely that Wyly will have his way. Wang and Kumar have some of the major shareholders on their side, and although neither will take the threat lightly, they will find it difficult not to feel confident.
And, like all good chief executives should, they will turn the situation around to their ultimate advantage. Wang stated as much when discussing how CA needs to get its message across to the public better.
A major advertising campaign and brand change has certainly brought CA more attention, but what could be better than a good old-fashioned boardroom struggle, with the evil Dr Wyly trying to wrestle power from the grasp of good old Charles Wang?
Unfortunately it is not a laughing matter, and despite numerous questions about how the argument came about in the first place, and what real customers are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, conversation returned to brand image and marketing.
Needless to say, this went down very well with the couple of thousand or so customers and partners. But let's just hope that CA takes heed of the situation and doesn't just use it as an excuse for more marketing, but as a reason to find out what is really going on at the grass root levels of modern business.
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