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The Mark Hurd I Knew—Data Sheet

October 21, 2019, 1:06 PM UTC

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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 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 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.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


What I really, really want. TikTok, the short and wacky videos app, last week hired law firm K&L Gates LLP to review its content moderation policies after criticism that the Chinese-owned company might be censoring debate over Hong Kong or other matters sensitive to the Chinese government.

Limited showing. In news that's both exciting and disappointing at the same time, Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, the home of genius director Hayao Miyazaki, is finally putting its film library online for U.S. fans. But the movies, such as Oscar winner Spirited Away, will exclusively be streamed on AT&T's HBO Max service, which debuts next year at a rumored price of $17 per month. Meanwhile, prices for AT&T's existing cable bundle-like online service, TV Now,  are going up by as much as 30%. The "Plus" package, for example, rises to $65 a month from $50 currently.

Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. The market for search advertising remains highly concentrated at the top. Google will grab 73% of all dollars spent on search ads this year, with Amazon in second place at 13%. Microsoft, passed for second place by Amazon in 2018, is expected to finish third with under 7% of the market, according to the report from eMarketer.

Can you hear me now? Researchers at Germany's Security Research Labs may have found a way to spy on users of Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices. The group demonstrated eight spying apps that snuck through the companies' screening process. The eavesdropping apps would have had to be triggered by users before becoming active, however.

C'est moi. Current Utah senator and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had a secret Twitter account that's secret no longer. Romney follows about 700 people on an account named “Pierre Delecto.” But the senator has only tweeted a total of 10 times, and always in reply to other tweets.


When Fitbit bought smartwatch pioneer Pebble and stopped its sales in 2016, millions of owners of Pebble devices feared the worst. Sure enough, Fitbit closed down the servers connecting to Pebble watches about two years later. But the story has a happy ending, as iFixit writer Kevin Purdy recounts on the iFixit blog. Former Pebble employee Katharine Berry led an effort to recreate the servers on new hardware and keep all Pebble watches working.

Berry and a cadre of crafty enthusiasts, the Rebble Alliance, had prepared for this moment. They had archived Pebble’s web and development assets, opened up the devices’ firmware a bit, and worked with former Pebble and Fitbit developers inside a Discord channel. Berry, between jobs, sprinted for two weeks to code a replacement cloud infrastructure. She guessed that, if they could pull it off, maybe a thousand people, at most, would try it out. One morning seven months later, Berry realized that Rebble had 100,000 accounts. Today, more than 212,000 accounts have been created—more than 10% of the two million Pebbles ever sold—and nearly 9,000 have subscribed.


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Are you middle class? Upper middle class? Do you consider yourself rich? Check the data and find out. The latest summary of income tax filings by the Internal Revenue Service (from 2017) arrived last week. Making the top half starts at $41,740, while the 1% begins at $515,371.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter:@ampressman


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