A vigorous, brash, opinionated, and accomplished business executive has passed from the scene. Mark Hurd, CEO of software maker Oracle, who held the same positions at enterprise technology companies NCR and Hewlett-Packard, died Friday at age 62.
I chronicled the Silicon Valley chapter of Hurd’s life, from his arrival at HP in 2005 through the 2010 scandal that jettisoned him from that perch and to his lower-profile tenure at Oracle.
For a handful of years I used to visit Hurd from time to time in his fortress-like office at HP in Palo Alto, Calif., where we’d have off-the-record conversations about business. These were fun because so long as I wouldn’t quote him, Hurd would zestfully dish on his competitors, companies in adjacent fields he admired, and on the powerful people he interacted with. He was smart and funny, and his observations were typically spot on. Just before the financial crisis hit he told me that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had just called to ask for Hurd’s support on corporate tax reform. That never went anywhere. The last time I visited for a chit-chat was immediately before details of the sexual harassment allegations that felled him broke publicly.
There are two types of corporate executives in Silicon Valley, the technologists and the businesspeople. Hurd was firmly in the latter camp. A buttoned-up business guy, he loved his charts and spreadsheets. He even kept one that tracked how he spent his time. That way he’d know how much he spoke to customers, how much on internal meetings, and so on. He shared the competition bug that defines executives of his ilk: He played college tennis and said he awakened each day at 4:45 a.m. without an alarm. (This and other details about Hurd appeared in my profile “Mark Hurd’s Moment” in 2009.)
The rap on Hurd was that he was a great sales guy, a ruthless operator and cost cutter, and no one’s idea of a technological visionary. Nothing he did at HP or Oracle dispelled these notions. He also guarded his reputation with all the zeal of a superrich and powerful CEO, right down to hiring outside help to clean up the online record of his past imbroglios. When I wrote a feature in 2015 about his return to prominence, he objected to the very premise of the article. “Redemption?” he asked, in a written statement. “While I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t think what I’m doing at Oracle has anything to do with redemption. I am thrilled to be at Oracle working with our team.”
That language wasn’t exactly the Mark Hurd that I knew, and we never spoke again after that. By Silicon Valley standards he wasn’t here long. But his time was eventful.