Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Who's Number Two At Oracle?

Yesterday’s management shift at Oracle has kicked off a new round of Kremlinologic speculation around which of Oracle’s presidents is now the more likely successor to CEO Larry Ellison, and the opinions differ wildly.

Oracle’s statement yesterday called the appointment of Safra Catz as president and CFO “permanent.” While that’s clearly meant to convey that this is no interim appointment, which was the case in her first turn as CFO during a three-year period that ended in 2008, does it also imply that Catz has reached her peak on the management ladder?

At least one analyst has concluded that it does. Pat Walravens, an analyst at JMP Securities tells Bloomberg that Catz’s appointment sets the pieces in place for President Mark Hurd, the 54-year old former Hewlett-Packard CEO, to take the reins from CEO Larry Ellison at some point in the future. Hurd, he says, gains more day-to-day control over the company, giving him a logical springboard to the corner office.

But is it really so clear? Before Hurd arrived on the scene, it was Catz who had always been described as Ellison’s heir apparent. She won her stripes primarily overseeing Oracle’s $10.6 billion takeover of Peoplesoft in 2005. At an Oracle event in 2005, Ellison said “If I dropped dead tomorrow, Safra Catz would be CEO of Oracle.” That implies that a formal succession plan saying exactly that was once–and may still be–in place. And by getting a title that begins with C, something Hurd doesn’t have, there’s a further implication of seniority that effectively makes Catz appear to be the second most powerful person at Oracle after Ellison.

Obviously there will be more tea-leaf reading to come from all this. And there will be more signals from Oracle that will be interpreted and re-interpreted again. Ellison is 66 years old and has been running Oracle since the days of the Carter Administration. He’s showing no signs of letting go of the pilot wheel just yet. (You just know he’s going to live to be 180.) Hurd is 54 and Catz is 49. Ellison likes them both. Time will eventually tell who gets the nod.

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