Oracle Gets New Co-Chiefs, But is Two Better Than One?

A flurry of change has encompassed Silicon Valley recently. After more than thirty years at the helm of the company he founded in 1977, Larry Ellison stepped down as the CEO of Oracle, the $177 billion hardware and enterprise-software behemoth. He is leaving in place Safra Catz and Mark Hurd, who have helped to run Oracle as a sort of triumvirate with Ellison for the last four years. The two will share the CEO role. The question to ask regarding Oracle’s imperative redirection is whether the power of two is better than a single figurehead.

Along with Bill Gates at Microsoft and Andy Grove at Intel, (both recently relinquished their roles) Ellison was one of the most important — and flamboyant — figures of tech’s early boom years. His stepping down marks the end of an era in the history of Technopreneurship. Ellison will become executive chairman of the Board and will continue to work on Oracle’s technology as its chief technology officer. But he does not leave his company entirely untroubled. Besides continuing challenges in cloud computing, including acquisitions and new competition, the company faces a raft of new types of databases, first developed inside Google and Yahoo, that also threaten the dominance of the relational database. Oracle now heads into a changing silicon-valley atmosphere driven by the advent of cloud computing, a segment that only represents 5% of it’s revenues. Added to this is the decline of Oracle’s core businesses of software licensing/support and hardware.

Will the two new Co-CEOs be seamlessly able to guide Oracle in the right direction, especially with the untested Ellison as chairman of the board? Corporate governance represents unfamiliar waters for the eccentric billionaire. A co-CEO arrangement could turn problematic, as it did at BlackBerry. BlackBerry’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down in 2012 after they failed to keep its market share from evaporating and restore investor confidence in a new operating system. Since then things have only been going south for the telephone company and Oracle could witness a similar fate as a worse-case-scenario. In my opinion, the future of Oracle must be watched very closely, as it will be a useful case study in transitioning leadership and corporate strategy.

-Karan Magu