Oracle President Mark Hurd has a unique perspective on global business and the IT industry—and his insight is an essential part of delivering success for Oracle customers.
By Aaron Lazenby
Mark Hurd joined Oracle in 2010 as president and a member of the company’s board of directors. Having twice engineered high-profile tech turnarounds—first at specialty hardware manufacturer NCR and again at HP—Hurd’s arrival at Oracle had a much different context than his previous jobs. “You don’t get many recruitment calls from companies that say, ‘Hey, why don’t you travel four miles from your house to work for a very well-positioned company, to help make it greater? Oh, by the way, nothing is broken,’” he says.
To help drive Oracle to the level of greatness, Hurd draws on more than 30 years of technology industry leadership, computer hardware expertise, and management experience. Oracle’s newest president spoke to Profit about his strategic vision, the future of the technology industry, and what defines a leader in a volatile economic environment.
Profit: What first attracted you to the technology industry?
Hurd: I was a business major in college and I liked the pace, the speed, and the growth that existed in the technology industry. I thought technology presented the opportunity to transform businesses, and that made it a pretty cool place. While the landscape has changed dramatically, it’s still a dynamic industry with the same sort of fundamental principles that brought me to it in the beginning. And the pace and evolution of change haven’t let up—if anything, they’ve accelerated.
If you look at the consolidation of the industry and the scale that some of the players have achieved in the past 30 years, it’s frankly amazing. So I’d argue it’s still the most exciting place to be today.
Profit: Has the transformative nature of technology altered the roles of the business leaders who manage IT? Have the roles of CIOs, CTOs, and the like changed with the industry’s evolution?
Hurd: I often tell people that there’s no major in any business school for becoming a CIO. It’s really a tough role. You have to bridge the technology world and the business world. And I’d argue that in the C-suite it is one of the toughest jobs—if not the toughest—you can possibly have.
People in an organization expect the CIO to know all about chips, servers, and industry standards. But they also expect them to know a lot about supply chains, days sales outstanding, days payable outstanding, and integrated views of the workforce.
IT is all about the alignment of business strategies, models, processes, and enterprise technology. Any CIO can do a great job managing the IT infrastructure, but if you can’t align those higher-order business processes and the strategy of the business, you don’t get the true magic out of IT.
Profit: You were the highest-profile free agent executive on the market when you joined Oracle. Why was this company the right fit for you?
Hurd: What’s so exciting about another round of fixing a broken thing? I’d rather work on taking something that’s great and making it exceptional. That’s why I’m at Oracle.
I think Oracle is arguably the best-positioned IT company in the world. We’ve got a very dynamic environment in front of us. Many of our customers have executives with great ideas. But those great ideas have to be supported by processes, and then by applications, and then by IT.
Someone’s got to come in and help transform those environments. Most of our customers—especially the CIOs—are faced with flat budgets. They’ve got 20-year-old technology and very little money. And they’re being asked to make a transformative IT move to support a big business strategy.
They are going to have to get cost out of their operations, and they need to increase innovation to help their companies grow. I think Oracle is the only one in the industry, or certainly the best positioned, to do both for a customer at the same time. That’s why I’m here.
Profit: What are the developments in the global economy that are driving business transformation?
Hurd: Globalization is huge. The top 10 emerging economies will be bigger than the traditional 7 economies by the turn of the decade. Up to 80 percent of the growth on the planet will be in those emerging economies.
So this changing economic backdrop is changing the physical location of people. People in traditional economies are traveling to all of those locations—physically going there to do business. There will be more than 1 billion mobile workers in the world by 2015, so connectivity, social networking, and mobility are all in high demand. Workers are moving around like crazy, yet they want access to every piece of information they need, any time they want it, no matter where they are. And the scale of the data set is climbing exponentially.
So CEOs hear about these trends and they want to get involved. But they aren’t necessarily equipped to drive that change, particularly in the realms of social networking and e-commerce, where customer service and security are priorities. Getting IT to respond to these changes puts tons of pressure on CIOs, because they’ve got to execute the CEO’s strategy.
When you add all this up, it’s obvious that there is hard work to be done. It’s really about finding the best path—and the best partner—so IT can execute.
Profit: You say globalization is having a significant business impact on IT, the workforce, and business strategy. Given that context, what does it take for a company to compete and succeed in a market like China?
Hurd: I’ve spent tons of time in China. I love China. It’s like the IT industry; it’s a fast-paced, evolving, dynamic place. That said, pretending that you can sit in California and understand China is just ridiculous.
Executives in China are not worried about the same things as their U.S. or Latin American counterparts. They’re worried about maintaining their economy to keep pace with their demographics, for example. They’re worried about getting an educated workforce into skilled, knowledge-based jobs.
A company must have executives in China who know China intimately, who are part of China, guiding their business and IT strategies. And I think that’s true with any foreign operation. You must have executives who know local people, culture, and policies—but also understand the corporate vision. Having people who can bridge those two worlds is a huge advantage.
So I work to get the best people in China who can bridge those two worlds—do the best at taking advantage of the technology and capabilities of a U.S.-based company and translate that into growth in their own region.
Profit: How do you prepare to engage in such a demanding business environment every day?
Hurd: I get up at 4:45 a.m. Pacific time, get my PC out, turn on the TV, and get to work. I’m listening to what the financial markets are doing. I’m flipping around, listening to what’s going on in the world. I’m doing my e-mail and surfing the Web, all sort of simultaneously. If something catches my eye, I call somebody before I head into the office.
That might mean chatting with someone before 7 a.m., but that’s the world we’re living in. I think the pace, the dynamism of the world today requires 24/7 attention. People are working harder, working smarter, making decisions faster. And those with the leadership and the skills to meet the challenges of that kind of environment are the people who are going to win.
People like to win. I believe people like to be driven to win. It’s why athletes take less money to go to a championship-caliber team. It’s because they want to be part of something that’s winning. It’s not a confusing formula. I say, “Listen, I think you’re really good at your job. I really think you can be a winner here.” I think people respond to that. So I’m a big believer in leadership, and I’m a big believer in clear destinations and in rewarding people to get there.
Profit: How do you get perspective in such a fast-paced world?
Hurd: I think context is important. There are times when you can get so engulfed and consumed in what you’re doing that you miss the context of the world around you. Being able to connect the dots is a lost art. I need people who can tell me what tactical action needs to be taken to support what we’re trying to get done strategically. If I can tie that into a multiyear strategy or financial performance goals or market-changing ideas, that is a very valuable capability.
Think of building a six-year plan and asking your team, “What could we be doing at the end of the last year of our plan?” It’s amazing the different answers you get. Six years from now? Holy cow, we could be doing all kinds of cool stuff.
And then once you agree on where you’re going, working backward from the goal is a lot easier. But to do that, you always need to keep strategic context.
Profit: What is it like to work at a company where the CEO is essentially the chief engineer?
Hurd: Look at what’s happened with Oracle’s acquisition of Sun. Larry [Oracle CEO Larry Ellison] has taken a lot of personal interest in Sun. From that acquisition we’ve seen a new set of SPARC chips, a new version of Oracle Solaris, and the SPARC SuperCluster. It doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of engineers working on it. But he’s really driving that agenda.
Look at Oracle Fusion Applications, and now the manifestation of those into more than 100 real products in the marketplace. Look at what we’ve done with Oracle Exadata, Oracle Exalogic, and more engineered systems to come. It takes years to get a company to a level where it can kick out that sort of technological capability.
Now, it’s hard to build a sales force. It’s hard to build great distribution channels. It’s hard to get in position to take advantage of every customer opportunity that’s out there. But those are things you can control, much more than you can the product set. I think we’ve got a tremendously positioned product portfolio. We’ve just got to execute.
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.