Global CIO: Larry Ellison Looms Large Over Put-Down Of Oracle President

Charles Phillips' claim about Oracle's $70B war chest is belittled in a stunningly public clarification that's also a put-down.
"While it is highly unlikely that we will spend anything approaching $70 billion in five years, we will be opportunistic and, if market conditions warrant, ..." etc., etc., etc.

Not just unlikely but "highly unlikely"; not just something under $70 billion but not even "anything approaching $70 billion."

No reference by name to Charles Phillips: Oracle president and board member, Ellison protege, and the man widely credited with harnessing Oracle's extraordinary technical prowess and turning it into a powerful global sales and marketing machine. And for the verbal hits to come from the head of PR--well, trust me, that's about as rare as Oracle and SAP saying sweet things to each other.

And all of that is why I think the "clarification" was also intended to be public embarrassment for Phillips. I have been around this business for more than a few years and in all that time, across big companies great and awful, I have never seen such a public woodshedding. Never.

I know Karen Tillman and have always found her to be sharp, fair, reasonable, and as tough as the occasion calls for. And while I have no hard evidence to the contrary, I cannot fathom that Karen Tillman wrote that terse, mean-spirited and belittling comment.

As for Larry Ellison, I don't know him but I do know his public comments and persona, and have been a very close student of every public statement he's uttered over the past 20 months. And there's definitely an Ellisonian ring to this couplet: "Oracle does not have a five-year acquisition budget. We don't even have a one-year acquisition budget." That is exactly, precisely the tone he has used frequently to goad SAP.

In addition, there's one and only one person at Oracle who could publicly speak so dismissively about Charles Phillip--again, company president and board member--and that one person is Larry Ellison. So why wasn't the Oracle statement attributed to the company founder and superstar CEO? To cause further embarrassment to Phillips, and create further distance between him and Ellison? I don't know; it's just speculation.

Whether or not Oracle, in fact, had or has a $70 billion acquisition war chest for the next five years, we mere mortals will probably never know. But either they have it and wanted to keep it secret, and Phillips breached a deep confidence by mentioning it; or, they don't have it, and he made an impossibly foolish and dangerous mistake by saying they do in front of a big and public crowd at an event produced by a media company.

I've known Charles Phillips on and off for more than a decade and have found him to be one of the most upstanding and honest executives I've met, and my admiration was certainly kindled by his being a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and then a captain in the United States Marine Corps before he started at Morgan Stanley and later was recruited by Ellison to join Oracle as president.

Nobody's perfect, and Phillips is more than man enough to handle whatever comes his way. But I hope that Oracle and the CEO for whom Phillips has done so much will conclude that the woodshedding session is over and done, that lessons have been learned, that the corporate pecking order has been conclusively reaffirmed, and that it's time for Oracle and all of its executives to get back to the business of tormenting their competitors instead of one of their own.

Because it's hard for me to imagine any big Oracle customer watching this whole awkward episode and coming out of it feeling better about Oracle.


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GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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