Larry Ellison is cranking up the heat Oracle's now-tenuous strategic partnership with HP by trashing newly named Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker as not only a dismal failure as CEO of SAP but also as the leader of SAP during the time it committed "industrial espionage and intellectual property theft" of Oracle software.
If this is the way companies today talk about their closest allies, then I'm not sure my dainty little ears can handle what's being said about their enemies.
Or, am I simply and naively failing to grasp the obvious: that Ellison's statements are a clear sign that when HP hired Apotheker on Thursday, Ellison and Oracle immediately began the process of reclassifying HP from deeply strategic partner to I'll-see-you-in-hell competitor?
Yes, the flap started two months ago when HP ousted CEO and Ellison friend Mark Hurd, which triggered a colorful series of remarks from Ellison about the general incompetence and unworthiness of HP's board.
But while some egos were bruised by that commentary, the companies got over that.
One month later, tensions surged once more when Hurd joined Oracle as co-president and was immediately sued by HP over fear that he'd give Oracle HP's trade secrets.
Passions flared over the HP litigation and also Ellison's remarks that HP's "vindictive" lawsuit showed the company's "utter disregard" for the Oracle partnership and for joint customers and was "making it virtually impossible" for the two companies "to continue to cooperate and work together in the IT marketplace."
But once again, HP and Oracle found a way to kiss and make up, allowing HP to retain its very visible presence in front of 41,000 global customers and prospects at Oracle Open World, where Oracle execs delivered one of the primary keynotes.
At that point, the words of HP CFO Cathie Lesjak (who at the time was also interim CEO), spoken during the height of those tensions, seemed prophetic: "In terms of how that's going to affect our relationship with Oracle, obviously with the press Ellison had yesterday, it strained it a bit, but at the end of the day business will prevail and we will go back to being good partners" (emphasis mine).
The problem now is that while the troubles still involve business, the severe strains between the companies have also become deeply, intensely, and irrevocably personal. And the folks feeling like they've been slapped across the face in public include far more than Ellison—here's the list: