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Oracle Reality Check: Five Questions Facing Ellison, Hurd and Catz

The hype remains overwhelming. Most media coverage suggests Oracle scored a huge win by hiring former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd (pictured). No doubt, Hurd brings a lot of expertise -- and his famed flip-chart diagrams -- into the Oracle executive suites. But instead of blindly praising the move, The VAR Guy wants to open your eyes a little wider.

The VAR Guy

September 10, 2010

6 Min Read
Oracle Reality Check: Five Questions Facing Ellison, Hurd and Catz

Mark Hurd Flip Chart

The hype remains overwhelming. Most media coverage suggests Oracle scored a huge win by hiring former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd (pictured). No doubt, Hurd brings a lot of expertise — and his famed flip-chart diagrams — into the Oracle executive suites. But instead of blindly praising the move, The VAR Guy wants to open your eyes a little wider. Here are five key questions facing Oracle as Larry Ellison, Mark Hurd and Safra Catz (how about some equal time for Oracle’s other co-president?) together strive to conquer the IT world.

So, the five big questions facing Oracle’s executive suite…

1. Can They Get Along?

Imagine Lou Gerstner working for Bill Gates. Or John Chambers working for Steve Ballmer. Both scenarios sound impossible. It begs the question: Is Mark Hurd really, truly ready to be the No. 2 person at a $26.8 billion IT company after being the No. 1 person at a $114 billion IT company?

Critics note that Ellison hasn’t always gotten along with his lieutenants. As the Associated Press notes:

“In a high-profile power struggle a decade ago, Ellison ousted a president, Ray Lane, who had played an instrumental role in rebuilding Oracle’s sales force after an accounting scandal. Lane resigned after Ellison tightened his grip on the company and stripped Lane of many of his responsibilities. Many other executives have left Oracle after falling out with Ellison or realizing that he would never loosen his reins of power.”

AP and other media outlets note that Hurd and Ellison have been friends outside of the office and on the tennis courts. Sounds wonderful. But the game changes once big egos are locked in an executive suite together.

Further complicating matters, Hurd has a co-president peer: Safra Catz. At 66, Ellison could be nearing retirement (though The VAR Guy doubts it…). Many media outlets note that Hurd is 53 — suggesting that Hurd may ultimately succeed Ellison as CEO. But don’t count out Catz. She’s been president of Oracle since 2004 and on Oracle’s board since 2001.

Alas, portions of the media have failed to mention Catz’s successful career at Oracle. Sure, Ellison and Hurd have to get along. But Hurd and Catz also need to work from the same playbook.

The VAR Guy’s prediction: Ellison, Hurd and Catz will work out a strong working relationship. The reason: They have common, clearly defined enemies in IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Nothing rallies a team together like clearly defined enemies.

2. Does Hurd Value the Channel?

Some pundits say Hurd is a major channel advocate who will help Oracle to overcome its direct sales DNA. Back at HP, Hurd leveraged the channel to energize HP’s server, desktop and mobile businesses. But at Oracle, will Hurd really help to tone down Oracle’s direct sales force while aggressively promoting the Oracle PartnerNetwork (OPN) Specialized partner program?

The VAR Guy’s prediction: The media — not Oracle — has a problem here. Indeed, the media has to tone down the Hurd-centric channel hype. Certainly, Hurd values channel partners. But back at HP, Hurd never disclosed how much revenue flowed through HP’s channel. And for the most part, Hurd promoted volume sales — rather than a value strategy — to HP’s channel partners.

Even before Hurd arrived, Oracle’s partner program had loyal partners — but most of the legacy channel media overlooked that modern reality.

A prime example: Cloud Creek Systems is an Oracle partner that recently landed on the Inc. 5000 list of fast-growing private U.S. companies. Key customers include MyLife, a social media network provider. Now here’s the modern twist: Instead of selling direct to MyLife, Oracle recommended Cloud Creek for the job, which has turned into a long-term business engagement for Cloud Creek.

Alas, most of the channel media doesn’t realize that Oracle actually sends business leads to its partners. Really, truly. It happens. Just ask Cloud Creek.

No doubt, some former Sun partners worry about their role in an Oracle world. But The VAR Guy has to ask: Would those Sun partners have survived if Sun remained independent?

3. Will Hurd Make an SMB Push at Oracle?

Here again, some members of the media are predicting Hurd will emulate HP’s SMB strategy at Oracle. No doubt, HP’s printers, notebooks, PCs and servers are widely deployed in the SMB market. And yes, Oracle has some SMB solutions. But will SMB really be a big emphasis for Hurd?

The VAR Guy’s prediction: Short term, Hurd’s top priority is promoting Sun servers and Sun storage head-on against IBM and HP. That’s it. Get beyond that conversation and you’ve lost your focus on the job at hand. Sun servers. Sun storage.

4. Will the HP vs.  Oracle Feud Get Resolved?

The rhetoric has quieted down over the past 24 hours. But the fighting words were flying fast and furious earlier this week. Ellison threatened to end the Oracle-HP relationship, after HP sued Hurd to block him from joining Oracle.

The VAR Guy’s prediction: The HP-Oracle relationship will never be the same. Even before Hurd joined Oracle, the Oracle-Sun combo meant that the HP-Oracle relationship would never be the same. Much like Oracle vs. IBM and Oracle vs. Microsoft, we’ll still see joint announcements between Oracle and HP down the road, and HP Executive VP Ann Livermore remains confirmed to speak at Oracle OpenWorld.

Meanwhile, Oracle has clearly articulated its strategy: To make Oracle’s software run best on Oracle-Sun hardware. That strategy was in place before Hurd arrived. And it means the HP-Oracle relationship will never be the same.

5. Can Oracle Stay On Message?

Consider this week’s headlines tied to Mark Hurd: Lawsuits, salary estimates, executive gossip. As Oracle OpenWorld gets set to launch on September 19, can Oracle executives remain on-message and shift the media’s attention to key partner and go-to-market strategies?

The VAR Guy’s prediction: Absolutely yes, Oracle will be on-message at OpenWorld. Sure, Hurd will still earn some personality headlines. And HP Executive VP Ann Livermore’s keynote at Oracle OpenWorld will provide plenty of drama.

But ultimately, VARs should prepare to hear progress updates on the OPN Specialized partner program from Channel Chief Judson Althoff. Plus, Oracle has even carved out some time for emerging partner opportunities like the MySQL open source database.

Side Memo to Althoff: Please update your blog. The VAR Guy would love to read or hear your views on Hurd joining Oracle.

The Bottom Line

Leave it to Larry Ellison. On paper, hiring Mark Hurd was a stroke of genius. But now comes the hard part:

  • Keeping egos under control

  • Clearly maintaining roles and responsibilities

  • Executing in the enterprise vs. IBM and HP

  • Building even tighter integration between Oracle software and Sun hardware, without abandoning hardware support for HP, IBM and Dell

  • Reinforcing the fact that Oracle continues to have a strong direct sales emphasis in large accounts

  • Promoting the fact that the OPN Specialized partner program already has profitable partners. And many of those partner wins involved sales leads that Oracle handed to partners.

The VAR Guy will be keeping score in the months ahead.

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