It’s the end of an era. Or is it?
You may have heard that Oracle’s Larry Ellison is stepping down from his role as CEO. The 70-year-old founder will now be taking on the executive chairman and chief technology officer titles. (Meanwhile, long-time company execs Safra Catz and Mark Hurd will be sharing the CEO job–whether or not that will work for the long-term is a different story).
While the move from CEO to CTO, especially for a founding chief executive officer, is relatively unique, it’s not unprecedented. And to a large extent, it’s reflective of the executive teams’ division of power, even before the reshuffling.
Consider the following, from a release issued by Oracle on Thursday afternoon: “All manufacturing, finance, and legal functions will continue to report to Oracle CEO, Safra Catz. All sales, service and vertical industry global business units will continue to report to Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd. All software and hardware engineering functions will continue to report to Oracle Chairman and CTO, Larry Ellison.”
“They were kind of already doing that,” says a source familiar with the company. “Nothing has really changed operationally.”
At the same time, Ellison’s appointment to the CTO gig could end up proving to be little more than window dressing. Why? Under the new roles, it’s not clear how hands-on Ellison will continue to be. This could be a good time for him to start scaling back his involvement, even though he is technically staying on in an operational role that’s similar to the one he was already playing. Despite the fact that Ellison is widely viewed as a visionary in the enterprise tech business, his acumen hasn’t saved Oracle, a legacy vendor, from disruptions on almost all fronts.
What’s more, while today’s press release says that all software and hardware engineering teams will continue to report to Ellison, many say the real technical lead at Oracle is Thomas Kurian, EVP of product development. Kurian is responsible for overseeing “all aspects of product strategy, software development, and delivery of Oracle’s software product portfolio including Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware, and ERP, CRM, and supply chain management applications.”
So while this step isn’t a huge departure from the status quo, it could be the start of a relatively soft and slow exit for Ellison, one of the richest people in the world. (Fun fact: In 2012, the tech mogul shelled out $500 million for the Hawaiian island of Lanai.)
Of course, Ellison remains the company’s largest shareholder. And he will likely want to keep meeting with engineers and making at least some of the decisions about Oracle’s technology strategy. He will also likely stay the most outspoken and colorful of the executive team at the company, and could play a role in keeping some relative peace between new CEOs Catz and Hurd.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that those two don’t brunch together on Sundays,” says Peter Goldmacher, a former Cowen & Company analyst who now works as a consultant to technology companies.
As for Ellison, he can pretty much brunch wherever he wants–on the tropical island of Lanai or in Redwood Shores, Calif., Oracle’s home turf, or anywhere else in the world. And that, regardless of what his “new” role as CTO will really mean, stays the same.