He's hunted terrorists in the Lebanon, and now he's got IBM in his sights

For a man aiming to take on computer giant IBM in what is regarded as one of the most fiercely contested markets in business, Amnon Landan has something of an ace up his sleeve.

It is not just that, as chief executive and president of the US software company Mercury Interactive, he has grown revenues from $70m (£40m) to $400m. Or that the company has a $1.3bn war-chest for acquisitions while its rivals are buried under debt. Nor is it that the $4.3bn company grew 24 per cent last year, while many software companies struggled to maintain a flat line.

No, while other company executives spend most of their lives sitting in the boardroom talking about corporate battles and discussing tactics, Landan has lived this out on the battlefield for real.

Brought up in Tel Aviv, an 18-year-old Landan joined the army and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a commando with the Israel Defense Forces, hunting for terrorists in southern Lebanon. "I see this as my business schooling," he says. "It was excellent training."

Landan moved to Silicon Valley in 1981 with his girlfriend and initially had to sleep on a mattress in the back of his car before he found a home. His rise through the IT industry was rapid and he became boss of Mercury in 1995.

He maintains that his training as a paratrooper is still relevant today. "Look at what management is all about: motivating people and making decisions in difficult conditions.

"Take the people issue: in the army there are lots of people who don't want to be there. In the Israeli army, they don't get paid. Therefore, you have to motivate people without any tangible reward.

"Take decision making: the biggest problem with making decisions is not making them. It is very tempting to stay in the safety zone and stand still. But you will never progress."

Mercury makes software that runs tests on computer systems to ensure they work properly. And it is Landan's aim to catapult Mercury into becoming one of the five largest software companies in the world in three to five years. To do this, the company will need to increase turnover to at least $3bn, going head-to-head with the industry behemoth IBM. Landan says: "This is a great opportunity for us because we have the financial assets."

Mercury is considering investing some of this money in Europe, which currently accounts for around 30 per cent of its business. "Our US business is double the size of our European operation; there is no justification for this," adds Landan. "Realistically, we'll make acquisitions to grow in Europe." But to take on IBM, he will need to call on every bit of his "business schooling" to win.

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