At the eye of the tornado of accusations, rumors and gossip in Silicon Valley that began with CEO Mark Hurd’s departure from Hewlett-Packard are the internal politics and lack of management procedures and oversight at the company. I have pointed out a connection not discussed elsewhere to issues around the enterprise software efforts at HP (See: “HP Scandal Reflects on Enterprise Software Issue“). Now with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s hiring of Hurd as president and appointment of him to the company’s board of directors, this topic comes up again because Mark will bring energy and ideas for advancement of Oracle’s technology portfolio. Larry continues to deliver interesting one-liners to the media, beginning at the time of the firing (“The HP Board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple Board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.”) and continuing as HP sues Oracle over Hurd bringing proprietary knowledge from there (“The HP board is acting with utter disregard for that partnership, our joint customers, and their own shareholders and employees. The HP board is making it virtually impossible for Oracle and HP to continue to cooperate and work together in the IT marketplace."). Larry is right that his move will impact the Oracle/HP partnership at many levels, but the war of words also shows the personal nature of high-stakes gamesmanship in Silicon Valley.
At the same time Oracle has accepted the resignation of President Charles Phillips, who helped mastermind its growth strategy and many of its acquisitions over the last decade. This comes as no surprise for the technology industry and media since scandals in Charles’s personal life distracted him and are rumored to have eliminated him from consideration for the CEO position of other technology companies. Charles was a relentless business traveler on the mission of heightening Oracle’s presence with senior executives and was good with the stump speech at organizations and cities across the world. Mark Hurd will bring a new style to the president’s office and probably not as much travelling or technology depth to the dialogue.
Of more concern for customers is how these changes and turmoil will affect organizations using HP and Oracle to help run their enterprises. To be honest, the impact could be strong, as Oracle is serious about using the server and storage technology acquired with Sun Microsystems to compete directly against HP. The background of this story may enlighten the present.
Oracle is just beginning to realize that being in the hardware business is different from what it has done in the past. The experience of Mark Hurd can help as Oracle tries to stake out one of largest territories in the overall technology market, challenging HP and IBM for spending authorized by CIOs and CFOs of organizations across the world. Oracle has become somewhat mechanical in how it assimilates companies, people and technology and has lost some of its luster and excitement in the industry and with customers. Those of us who enjoy science fiction and Star Trek would call it a primitive version of 'The Borg' One of Larry’s goals is to ensure business growth of the technology that was acquired from Sun, and that includes the advancement of Oracle’s data warehouse appliance Exadata, which competes for mindshare against HP Neoview, IBM, Netezza, Teradata and other new efforts from vendors like from Aster Data and even the open source system Hadoop led by Cloudera. Larry himself is deeply invested in the database business, which is where he began, and that extends to the growing data appliance industry, as he said in his presentation at Oracle Open World in 2009; attendees got the feeling that was more important to him than the Fusion Applications. In Oracle’s hiring announcement, Ellison specifically mentioned the work Mark Hurd did with NCR’s then-subsidiary Teradata, which cultivated strong customer loyalty and commitment for data warehousing appliances. On the other hand, more recently at HP, Hurd was not successful in getting HP Neoview to as strong a position as Teradata had – that has been the Achilles’ heel of HP’s enterprise software and technology efforts.
HP might have reason to be concerned about what Hurd can tell his new company, but maybe even more at Teradata. Hurd made significant changes at HP in terms of employees and organizational structure to ensure its profitable growth. To accomplish those goals now at Oracle will require fresh thinkers and people who do not hesitate in making changes to grow. It will be fascinating to see how he and Larry Ellison collaborate for the next stage of Oracle’s growth and whether that comes at a higher or lower price for its customers. One thing is for certain is that will be more than profitable for Oracle and the entertainment will continue.
Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research