Larry Ellison will step down as CEO of Oracle Corp. (NYSE: ORCL), a company he founded and fundamentally controls. His new title will be Executive Chairman and Chief Technology Officer. Longtime co-presidents Safra Catz and Mark Hurd will be the new co-CEOs. On paper, it is hard to see who will run what at Oracle in the future.
There is nothing to indicate the roles of Catz and Hurd will change at all. They just run Oracle on the days Ellison does not want to.
Ellison has been a member of Oracle’s board since 1977. He owns 25% of the company’s shares. While he may not own 51% of the company, control of a quarter of Oracle’s shares qualifies as a level of leverage that is beyond any reasonable challenge.
In the press release about the changes, Ellison said:
Safra and Mark will now report to the Oracle Board rather than to me. All the other reporting relationships will remain unchanged. The three of us have been working well together for the last several years, and we plan to continue working together for the foreseeable future. Keeping this management team in place has always been a top priority of mine.
Ultimately someone has to be in charge. Ellison is not retiring in any real sense of the word. The Oracle board’s presiding director, Dr. Michael Boskin, said:
Larry has made it very clear that he wants to keep working full time and focus his energy on product engineering, technology development and strategy.
His hobbies, like the America’s Cup, have always kept Ellison away from the offices for stretches of time. Boskin’s comment makes it seem as if Ellison will be around even more often.
When Bill Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), the company he co-founded, his close friend and long-time aide Steve Ballmer took over. That was in January 2000. Ballmer held the title until early this year. When he was replaced by Satya Nadella, there was never any question about who approved the change, and perhaps who put it in motion. Gates never left Microsoft. He was the de facto CEO during all of Ballmer’s tenure. Founders may step away from CEO jobs, but they rarely give up the power that goes with them.