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Originally published Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 8:00 PM

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Oracle promotion vindication for new co-CEO Hurd

Mark Hurd’s promotion last week to be co-CEO of Oracle marked the culmination of a comeback for the former Hewlett-Packard chief, who was unceremoniously ousted from the computer maker. “This is a vindication of Mark’s performance ... ,” said a former HP board member.

San Jose Mercury News


Mark Hurd is back.

Oracle’s decision to make him co-CEO serves as a validation for the executive, who left HP’s top job under a cloud four years ago.

“This is a vindication of Mark’s performance at both Hewlett-Packard and Oracle,” said Joel Hyatt, a former HP board member and co-founder of Current TV. “He’s an outstanding leader and he has done extraordinarily well wherever he has been.”

While it doesn’t appear that Hurd will initially take on any new responsibilities, the CEO titles for Hurd and Safra Catz are a “recognition” of their work, Larry Ellison, Oracle’s long-serving CEO, said in a conference call with analysts Thursday.

All three executives were quick to assert that nothing has really changed in terms of their roles except that the co-CEOs now report to the board.

“The Hurd, Catz, Ellison trio still rules,” said John Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “They still have their old domains. This is sound and fury signifying not much.”

Maybe not for Oracle.

But for Hurd, who travels the globe promoting Oracle’s products and services and who is credited with expanding Oracle’s sales force, the new title helps sweep away any taint on his reputation after his break with HP.

Hurd’s comeback story is a testament to his grit, hard work and an ability to move on. After his acrimonious departure from HP, he got immediately to work at Oracle.

Hurd was largely unknown in Silicon Valley when HP’s board announced in 2005 that the CEO of NCR, the Dayton, Ohio, business-equipment maker, would be the company’s next CEO after Carly Fiorina’s ouster.

In contrast to Fiorina’s showmanship, Hurd was portrayed as a low-wattage, back-to-basics guy who started as a salesman at NCR and worked his way up over 23 years to take the top NCR job.

At HP, despite his lack of star power then, Hurd was credited as a stabilizing force, moving quickly to cut costs and continuing to run the company, even as it got ensnared in yet another scandal, this time over spying on board members and journalists.

Hurd orchestrated a string of acquisitions that helped to fuel HP’s growth. During his tenure, HP became the world’s biggest maker of personal computers. Revenue and profit rose, as did the company’s stock price. But he did come under criticism for his stringent cost-cutting.

“He’s a high-energy type of guy; he’s extremely customer-focused,” said Andy Mattes, president and chief executive at Diebold, who worked for Hurd in senior-level positions at HP. “He has a keen focus on detail. He’s quite an inspiring leader.”

But in 2010, Hurd shocked the tech industry when he quit HP. A board investigation concluded he had violated the company’s business standards in regard to a relationship with an outside contractor.

While the board said Hurd had not violated the firm’s sexual-harassment policy, it said he had submitted inaccurate expense reports to conceal the relationship.

In an email to The New York Times, Ellison described HP’s move as “the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.” Hurd “spent the last five years doing a brilliant job reviving HP to its former greatness,” Ellison said.

“Most people thought he got a raw deal,” said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and an adviser to Silicon Valley firms.

Within a month of Hurd’s leaving, Ellison hired him to be co-president of Oracle, a title he would share with Catz, who is also the company’s chief financial officer.

Initially there was skepticism about the viability of Oracle’s three-headed leadership structure. Hurd focused on building the company’s sales team, meeting with customers and boosting Oracle’s cloud products and services. Catz’s domain has been internal operations and the company’s finances.

The news that Catz and Hurd would be co-CEOs is a sign that the partnership has worked, said R. “Ray” Wang, chairman of Constellation Research.

“When you have a strong leader like Larry, he could focus on Mark’s strengths in sales, business development and building alliances,” Wang said.

In his new role, Hurd is more likely of the two to take on more of a strategic role, Sullivan said. “With this move, [Larry] is admitting that other people can give the company direction. Mark is likely the strategist of the two.”

The HP saga was never going to be the end of Hurd’s career.

And with his own comeback, Hurd has a chance again to be a tech-industry icon.

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