Hurd-n-Catz at Oracle
Author: Steven Zolman
For over 30 years, Oracle has been synonymous with Larry Ellison. To date, he hasn’t yet named a successor, something that probably continually frustrates board chairman Jeff Henley to no end.
Many would-be heirs to the thrown have been forced out by Ellison, or have left of their own accord after they have gotten sideways with Larry the Terrible.
The two most recent co-presidents (Charles Phillips & Safra Catz) were widely regarded as executives with no real shot at replacing Ellison. Catz flat out doesn’t want the job, and has publicly stated as much. She once said, “I don’t know who would take over if something happened to Larry. I don’t want the job.” to Forbes. The recently ousted Phillips was widely considered to be a glad-hander and although articulate and influential, wasn’t seen as a serious executive with real organizational power.
What about Mark Hurd? Could he be the one? On the surface, it sure seems like he could be. First, he is a serious executive with a real lineage of success in the top job. He has been a major technology firm CEO since 2003 and oversaw a great acquisition rich growth curve at HP, making it the largest technology firm in the world – surpassing IBM. Secondly, he is buds with Larry – and Larry obviously thinks highly of the guy as evidenced by his critical and public statements about HPs board making one of the biggest personnel blunders since Apple forced out Steve Jobs. Did the HP board deserve the criticism? You make the call.
Another reason to consider Hurd? The Sun acquisition. Now that Oracle is into the vertical systems integration game and is squarely taking on competitors HP and IBM, Oracle is in deep water and needs a shark well adapted to this hunt. Hurd’s vision at HP propelled that organization from a printer ink company to the largest technology firm in the world. It would be, well, Ellison-esque, for Oracle to assume the same ambitious path. What if Oracle acquired Dell, Cisco, Symantec and EMC? It could immediately vault itself into that level of the competition – and could be winning on all fronts!
As for Hurd as potential successor, he must carefully consider and evaluate the long list of senior executives who have been ousted once they get in Larry’s cross-hairs and/or consumed too much of his limelight. This may prove difficult for Hurd, who has been the top guy for a long time now, and isn’t used to working for a boss at all, much less someone as domineering as Larry Ellison. In addition, Hurd was previously successful in staying out of the limelight, but all eyes will be on him now thanks to the highly publicized sexual harassment scandal – ending with his ousting from HP.
Ellison’s reign of Oracle has never really been in question – except for one time. In 1990, Oracle suffered from a huge accounting scandal that resulted in declining sales, increasing costs and ultimately forced Oracle to post losses for the first time in company history. The stock tanked as a result. In fact, Oracle had to borrow $170M just to stay afloat during this rough patch.
Top Oracle sales person Tom Siebel could have been groomed to take over for Ellison one day, but after Ellison rejected Siebel’s idea for an external product that could be used to help sales forces manage their business (today known as CRM software), Siebel took a leave of absence and never returned. He sold his shares of Oracle just in advance of the big 1990 accounting scandal that sent Oracle shares plummeting and went on to found Siebel Systems, an innovator in CRM software. Siebel was later acquired by Oracle.
Post the 1990 accounting scandal, Oracle’s board strongly encouraged Ellison to hire more seasoned executives and implored him to consider a better succession plan. Ellison then brought in Jeff Henley to run finance and Ray Lane to run Sales.
In 1997, Oracle released a new set of homegrown applications. They flopped. Then President Ray Lane advised that only a drastic change in leadership would save the applications business. In response, Ellison named himself as head of applications and then systematically stripped Lane of power and responsibility over time. By June, 2000 Lane was no longer President and subsequently quit.
After Lane was Gary Bloom. Bloom hoped to become the heir apparent and actually showed some star power potential, but quit a few months after Lane and went over to run Veritas – who was later acquired by Symantec.
Another potential candidate for succession, Oracle’s head of marketing – Terence Garnett abruptly quit in1994, after he clashed with Ellison.
Harry You lasted only eight months and left to run BearingPoint.
Former Microsoft CFO Greg Maffei lasted only four months under Ellison.
Days after Oracle announced it would acquire middleware maker BEA software, leading to many question around Oracle’s plans with Fusion; both a middleware platform and a ‘best of’ next generation applications platform, John Wookey – Oracle’s SVP of application development and person most responsible for integrating the ‘best of’ features from no less than four major application platforms (Oracle’s own e-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, and Siebel) quit after a heated argument with Ellison. Oracle execs tried to get him back, but the damage was done. Roughly one year later, Wookey ends up at SAP.
Many top executives also left after acquisitions. Many of the top PeopleSoft executives left after the acquisition. Craig Conway was sacked by Larry’s Lawyers after the hostile takeover bid.
Many top executives of Sun also left after the acquisition. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz quit in a famous haiku on twitter. Creator of Java and then Sun CEO James Gosling quit, as did Bryan Cantrill, Simon Phipps and Tim Bray.
Dead bodies are scattered in Oracle succession plans of the past, and Mark Hurd could certainly run into problems if he gets sideways with Ellison – but given Larry’s ambitions for global domination, and his belief that good buddy Mark Hurd can execute on that vision, like he did at HP, the future for Oracle may definitely look a lot like Hurd and Catz.
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