Veritas' Gary Bloom: Out of Ellison's Shadow
By Jim Kerstetter
Gary Bloom was edgy. True, he was comfortably positioned as one of the top-dog executives at software giant Oracle Corp. Already in charge of worldwide marketing at the $10 billion company, Bloom had taken on management of Oracle's core database business and its important e-business-systems development. Some pundits even saw him as the company's future CEO.
Still, it wasn't enough. Bloom may have a rep as an understated guy, but there's no question he wanted to be his own boss. And pundit speculation aside, he knew that wasn't going to happen at Oracle, where Chief Exec Lawrence J. Ellison rules with unquestioned authority. "He's right," Ellison says. "I am not going anyplace for a long time."
Enter Veritas Software Corp., perhaps the most successful software company nobody has ever heard of. After nearly a year of courtship by Veritas CEO Mark Leslie, Bloom announced last November that he was pulling up stakes and taking charge of the company, which is just down the road from Oracle in Mountain View, Calif.
At Veritas, Bloom is getting exactly what he wanted: unquestioned authority and the chance to duplicate the amazing run Oracle has had over the past 10 years. "I had to assure Gary that he was absolutely going to be in charge," Leslie says. "He didn't want to have someone hovering over him." Leslie, who will stay on as chairman, believed that to keep growing, Veritas needed someone with more big-company experience.
A maker of software to manage data storage, Veritas is on the brink of becoming a giant. It's a dream situation for Bloom. Veritas' annual revenues topped $1.2 billion last year, with $263 million pro forma net income, and analysts anticipate at least 50% growth this year.
There's still work to be done, though. As a result of a series of acquisitions over the past three years, the company had a net loss of $620 million. Though some analysts worry that customer demand is cooling because of the souring economy, market watchers like Charles Phillips at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter say Veritas is still among the best-positioned to take advantage of e-business. It's one of the few companies, Phillips argues, that makes must-have technology for big e-business systems.
Maybe so. But it won't be Leslie, who founded the company in 1989, who shepherds the company to the big time. "I'm a great entrepreneur, but I'm not a guy who can take a $1 billion company and turn it into a $10 billion company," Leslie says. Bloom, he believes, is that guy.
That Bloom would want -- and had the clout to demand -- such control makes sense. Just 40, he was considered one of the hottest CEOs-in-waiting in Silicon Valley. He had a reputation as a guy who delivered big projects on time and somehow managed to do it without stepping on too many toes. "He's one of the good guys," says Warren M. Weiss, chief exec at software maker Asera Corp.
AN ELLISON OPPOSITE.
At Oracle, renowned as much for its internal competition as its feistiness with nemeses like Microsoft Corp., that was considered downright remarkable. "I never blended in with some of the patterns that Oracle ran with over the years," Bloom says. Adds Leslie: "If you did a blind taste test, you would never have thought that Gary was from Oracle." In other words, Bloom's self-effacing personality is nothing like the blustery attitude many stereotypically expect from an Oracle executive.
Bloom is tickled when people describe him as the un-Oracle. A married father of two, he likes to think of himself as downright un-Silicon Valley, too. To him, that means he keeps a little perspective in a money-obsessed culture. "I don't try to cut deals on the sidelines of my kids' baseball games," he says. While his old boss is fascinated by jets and Japanese culture, Bloom's hobby, collecting old cars, is decidedly American. His favorite is a 1947 Willy's Jeep, which he bought in an eBay auction for $6,500. "I drove it to Oracle one day, but I had to have it towed home," he laughs. Is he quirky? "Well, I think Larry Ellison is a lot quirkier than I am."
Don't mistake Bloom for a pushover, however. He's known as a quick decision-maker, someone with a grasp of both technological and business minutiae, and tough enough to thrive in Oracle's cutthroat culture. A computer scientist by education, the native Californian worked his way up the ladder during his 14 years working for Ellison, from lowly programmer to the second-most-powerful man in the company. And that power was growing right up to the day he quit.
Bloom unquestionably benefited when Raymond Lane, then Oracle's chief operating officer, resigned last summer. That was the result of a long-simmering feud with Ellison, who bit by bit had taken some of Lane's duties for himself and transferred others directly to Bloom. But Bloom is the first to say he learned how to run a fast-growing company at Ellison's side, and looked like the successor.
That is, a successor to a man who has no intention of quitting. So, it was time to move on. Bloom says Ellison took it well when he said he was leaving. Indeed, Ellison, perhaps going out of his way to avoid duplicating the bad blood left from Lane's departure, even put out a press release throwing kudos to Bloom for his move. "It's a great opportunity for him," Ellison said in an interview shortly after Bloom left.
Bloom says he and Ellison have stayed on good terms. Though, like so many other ex-Oracle execs, he's critical of the company's hyperaggressive culture, Bloom takes great pains to avoid saying anything negative about Ellison. "I'm also one of the few executives to leave Oracle by my own desire," he says.
Bloom has high hopes for Veritas. Just three years ago, it had only $121 million in annual revenues. It has been on the fast track since, and Bloom believes $10 billion is a realistic goal. Tall order. But he has a plan. He wants to expand in marketing, the number of products, and sales, particularly outside the U.S. Though he stops shorting of saying so, analysts expect him to put more salespeople on the ground in Europe and Asia.
One of his most important tasks will be pumping up sales of products based on new technology called storage-area networks. Bloom also is considering a branding campaign -- something practically unheard of at Veritas. "I think there's a tremendous opportunity here to expand the visibility of this company," Bloom says.
One thing is very clear about Bloom: He may not share his old boss's personality, but he certainly shares his grand ambition.
Kerstetter follows high technology from BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau