With co-CEOs, Oracle sets challenging course

Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:04pm EDT
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By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - By promoting its two presidents to serve as co-chief executives instead of founder and CEO Larry Ellison, database-and-software behemoth Oracle (ORCL.N: Quote) is setting itself a course that has confounded other big companies.

The move seemingly marries the product oversight of Mark Hurd, former chief executive of Hewlett Packard, with the legal and financial expertise of Safra Catz, a 15-year Oracle veteran.

With Ellison remaining executive chairman and in a position to call the final shots, the company may be able to avoid some of the challenges that have mired other co-CEOs, who often end up in an unhappy "two’s-a-crowd" situation, analysts say.

At Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, for example, Wenda Harris Millard was supposed to oversee media, while co-CEO Robin Marino held responsibility for marketing. That lasted just 10 months, with Millard quitting in early 2009 after frequent clashes with Marino and company founder Stewart.

At Citigroup, a co-CEO arrangement between John Reed and Sandy Weill, two strong personalities who publicly jousted, fell apart when Reed left in 2000.

"Co-CEO structures are typically not ideal," said Bill Kreher, an analyst at Edward Jones, who says most companies need the decisiveness that a single strong-willed leader offers.

But at Oracle, because the duo has already worked together for years, "we don't see the day-to-day changing," Kreher said.

Catz, trained in finance and law, was a Wall Street banker from 1986 until she joined Oracle in 1999 and has been a central figure in Oracle's many acquisitions. Sales-oriented Hurd spent 25 years at computer and ATM pioneer NCR Corp before joining Hewlett-Packard, where he was CEO from 2005 until 2010.   Continued...

Oracle Corp Chief Executive Larry Ellison introduces the Oracle Database In-Memory during a launch event at the company's headquarters in Redwood Shores, California June 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Noah Berger