Oracle’s Ellison Steps Down as CEO, Replaced by Hurd and Catz

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Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison, chief executive officer of Oracle Corp. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison stepped down as chief executive officer of the software maker he founded, making way for a new generation of executives and ending one of the most profitable runs for a leader in business history.

Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, currently co-presidents of Oracle, were both named CEO to replace Ellison, the company said today. Hurd will run sales, marketing and strategy, while Catz will remain chief financial officer and oversee legal and manufacturing operations. Ellison will become chairman, replacing Jeff Henley, and also take on the title of chief technology officer.

Ellison, who turned 70 last month, guided the Redwood City, California-based company for more than 35 years to make it the world’s largest database-software company and one of the biggest providers of business programs. Oracle’s products have become the backbone of modern commerce and industry. The company has a market capitalization of more than $185 billion and produces annual revenue of $38 billion.

Ellison’s departure as CEO also signals a broader changing of the guard in the technology industry, as a generation of founder-CEOs who ushered in the personal-computer and business-software era leave their posts. Ellison, who co-founded Oracle in 1977 and has run the company ever since, rose alongside Apple Inc.’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates.

Oracle’s Position

Oracle’s shares fell in extended trading after increasing less than 1 percent to $41.54 at the close in New York.

Ellison is leaving the day-to-day operations of Oracle at a time when the software industry he helped promote has been disrupted by the rise of cloud-computing technologies. Oracle’s core business has been selling software designed to run on gear owned by the customer, and by charging a license fee. New cloud technologies let companies rent software without having to invest in equipment or commit to a license.

Oracle’s sales growth has been less than 5 percent for 11 of the past 12 quarters. The company has struggled to sign up new customers and has turned to selling more hardware and industry-specific technologies to existing customers.

Ellison remains Oracle’s largest shareholder, holding 1,1 billion shares, or 25 percent, of the company. The next largest shareholder is BlackRock Inc., with a 4.2 percent share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Ellison’s Wealth

During his run helming Oracle, Ellison became the seventh-richest person in the world, with a net worth of about $46 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ellison flaunted his wealth, building a sprawling Japanese-inspired home in Silicon Valley, scooping up large swaths of land in Malibu and making a splash in 2012 when he bought the Hawaiian island of Lanai. He’s also well known for yachting exploits and sponsored the team that won the America’s Cup last year.

One of the strategies Oracle mastered during Ellison’s tenure was the art of binge acquisitions. Oracle has bought dozens of companies over the years, with Ellison sometimes making huge deals to wipe out competitors.

That included the 2005 purchase of PeopleSoft Inc. for $10.3 billion. The deal was a hostile battle that involved warnings that Oracle would cut thousands of employees and even threats of violence against the PeopleSoft CEO, Craig Conway, and his dog. More recently, Oracle in June agreed to buy hospitality software maker Micros for $5.3 billion.

Hurd, Catz

Hurd, 57, joined Oracle as president in 2010 from Hewlett-Packard Co., where he was CEO for four years. He left after investigations into allegations of sexual harassment found inaccurate expense reports filed by Hurd or in his name. Upon Hurd’s departure from Hewlett-Packard, Ellison upbraided the company’s board, writing in a letter to the New York Times that “the HP board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.”

At Oracle, Hurd has taken charge of sales and spends much of his time meeting with customers and overseeing the company’s corporate direction.

Catz joined Oracle as executive vice president in 1999 and became the president in 2004. Before Hurd’s arrival, Catz was regarded as the natural successor to Ellison. She has moved around different parts of the company and shied away from the limelight. She is also a lecturer in accounting at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, where she co-teaches a course on mergers and acquisitions.

The unusual leadership arrangement may not be well received by investors. While Hurd and Catz have worked alongside each other for four years, neither executive is short on ego or afraid to voice opinions.

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