Oracle's Secret Weapon: Charles Phillips - InformationWeek
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Oracle's Secret Weapon: Charles Phillips

The former Morgan Stanley software analyst has emerged as one of the most powerful people in the software industry. How long can he keep customers satisfied and Wall Street happy?

After 31 acquisitions in the last two years, Oracle's tornado-like swath through the software industry continues, with no end in sight. But the company's best acquisition of all was the most surprising--hiring a gifted Morgan Stanley software analyst who has transformed, remarkably, into a powerful executive with a golden customer touch.

We aren't afraid to do something different because that's how you change the game," says Phillips

Photo by Kim Kulish
Larry Ellison took a risk when he plucked Chuck Phillips off Wall Street and made him into Charles Phillips, Oracle president. In the three years since, Phillips has emerged as Oracle's front man, constantly on the road, fulfilling the dual jobs of acquisition executor and customer advocate. Phillips' performance has been spot on: The company's revenue, profit, and stock price have risen steadily.

It's too early to call Oracle's strategy a slam-dunk success. Whether it's simply the minor fall-out that comes with a hugely ambitious undertaking, or indications of something more serious, Oracle has left more than a few disgruntled customers in its wake. There's also the question of how much stress Oracle's operations can withstand from the constant assimilation of new companies. Can Phillips hold it together, or will he and other Oracle execs bail out at the first sign of financial slippage?

To his credit, Phillips has gained the trust of the Oracle user community, despite little management experience. He's turned many of those who were once wary of Oracle's moves to snap up PeopleSoft, Siebel, Hyperion, and dozens of other companies into believers. "If you looked at the past 10 years and picked one executive who has really excelled in the IT business, it has to be Charles," says customer Ralph Szygenda, CIO of General Motors. "He listens. He addresses problems."

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So far, so good. But one of the main reasons Oracle's strategy works is because the company hasn't forced customers off acquired platforms, choosing to bear the cost of supporting and improving overlapping products, including several different ERP suites. A worst-case scenario, speculates Szygenda, might involve a few quarters in which Oracle doesn't meet its numbers, forcing the software company into cost-cutting mode. "So, is there continuity to this strategy? That's my question," Szygenda says. "It feels good, but will it feel good two years from now?"

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