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12/14/2010
09:21 PM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Is Larry Ellison Hurting Oracle By Hammering Competitors?

Excellent industry analyst Josh Greenbaum says Ellison's recent words and deeds are doing damage to Oracle, but I believe the opposite is true.

Josh Greenbaum is one of the enterprise-software industry's top analysts, and his "Enterprise Matters" blog posts are always thoughtful, timely, and compelling. Josh is also a friend, but that flaw in his judgment shouldn't be held against him.

Earlier this week, Josh posted an intriguing piece called The Realignment of the Enterprise Software Market: Oracle vs. Everyone, Microsoft in Ascendance, and Watch out for Infor. It's an eye-opening exploration of some of the undercurrents that are rattling the software business these days, and, not surprisingly, Larry Ellison and Oracle are placed in the center of the industrywide action.

So I have three objectives with this column: first, for those who haven't seen it, a look at Josh's probing analysis; second, to offer some counterpoints to Josh's thinking with regard to Ellison, Oracle, and why they do the things they do; and third, to argue that while Ellison's us-against-the-world approach can be seen as corrosive (Josh's opinion), it can also be seen as bold new leadership (my view).

These issues are incredibly vital right now because the enterprise software business—on which all of the world's mid-sized and large corporations run (and think about that for a second)—is, as Josh says in his headline, undergoing some profound realignments and transformations.

So are Larry Ellison's recent moves hurting Oracle, or preparing it for its next waves of growth and influence? Here's a 5-point checklist in which Josh and I each offer our own diagnoses—and because Josh's piece came first, I'll start each point with a comment from Josh, followed by my reaction to his assertion.

1) Larry Ellison's take-no-prisoners competitiveness.

Josh writes, "Larry Ellison makes no bones about it, he’s willing and able to compete to the death, or at least to the near death, with any and all who stand in his way."

My take: Josh frames Ellison's crusade as battling fiercely against "any and all who stand in his way." For myself, that's the sort of CEO I would want to work for, and the sort of company I'd want to invest in: set a strategy, commence execution, and steamroll whatever impediments stand in the way. Appeasement is the strategy embraced by those that can't or won't compete.

2) What does Oracle owe to HP, SAP, and IBM?

Josh writes, "So, despite the billions of dollars in joints sales between Oracle and SAP, HP, and IBM, Ellison has been directly, and at times, viciously, attacking these three companies in very public and very over the top ways. These are not some of Ellison’s finest moments."

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HP last week trashed Oracle's acquisition of Sun, saying it was a money-losing outfit whose products even under the new Oracle banner still rank near the bottom of the server standings. Is this vicious? Over the top? Or is it appropriately aggressive and forceful advocacy for HP's servers, which are the top sellers in the world? If it's okay for HP to hammer away at Oracle—and I certainly feel it is—then why is it vicious and over the top when Ellison does it? As for IBM, the last two comments I can find from Ellison about IBM are, in fact, rather graceful and respectful. A couple of weeks ago, in rolling out Oracle's new Sparc Superclusters, Ellison said this about IBM:

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