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Ellison steps aside as Oracle CEO, becomes CTO and chairman

Oracle said founder Larry Ellison is giving up his CEO position but will continue to oversee product development as CTO, while also becoming the company's executive chairman.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has stepped down from that position after holding it since he co-founded the company more than 30 years ago.

Ellison, whose name is practically synonymous with the market-leading relational database software vendor, will now serve as Oracle's CTO and executive chairman of its board of directors. Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, formerly co-presidents, will now be co-CEOs and report to the board as a whole instead of to Ellison.

But Ellison, who turned 70 in August, maintained that not a lot is changing internally. "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," he said in a statement. "Keeping this management team in place has always been a top priority of mine."

Ellison was even more emphatic during a webcast conference call on Oracle's first-quarter earnings, which were also announced today. In response to a question about the management changes, Ellison said he will continue to work with Hurd, Catz and Oracle's software and hardware engineering executives "exactly the way I have been."

"I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing over the last several years, and they're going to continue doing what they've been doing over the last several years," he said. "I'm happy that we can continue forward with our management team." He praised Hurd and Catz for doing "a spectacular job" as co-presidents and said they "deserve the recognition of their new titles."

New Oracle CEOs: Nothing else in the works

The two new co-CEOs said equally emphatically that they don't plan any changes at the company. When asked whether he was looking to modify Oracle's sales leadership or structure, Hurd simply said, "No." The financial analyst who posed the question referred to an earlier comment by Catz that there would be no significant changes, prompting her to weigh in as well. "I want to be very clear," she said. "There will actually be no changes. Not no significant changes -- no changes."

Rich Niemiec, president of the Oracle consulting practice at IT services provider Rolta Americas Ltd., said he views today's announcement largely as a case of Oracle formalizing the management structure it already had in place. And he thinks Ellison's CTO role could be a good thing for Oracle customers. "The fact that he's moving to this means he's going to be [spending] more time with the technology," Niemiec said. "Oracle is not going to slow down. If anything, it's going to accelerate."

In a statement, Oracle board member Michael Boskin said Ellison told company officials that he wants to continue working full-time but "focus his energy on product engineering, technology development and strategy." All software and hardware engineering functions will continue to report to Ellison, Oracle said. Catz will continue to oversee manufacturing, finance and legal operations, while Hurd will remain in charge of sales, customer service and the company's vertical-industry global business units.

Questions of commitment after keynote snub

Many questioned Ellison's commitment as Oracle CEO last year, when he opted to watch a crucial leg of the America's Cup yachting competition -- which the Ellison-backed Oracle Team USA ended up winning -- instead of giving a second keynote address to thousands of customers in attendance at Oracle OpenWorld, the company's largest annual conference.

But Ellison is again scheduled to deliver two keynote speeches at this year's OpenWorld conference, one during the opening session on Sept. 28 and another two days later. During the Q1 earnings call, he said the company plans at OpenWorld to roll out a Database as a Service offering that will let users move Oracle databases to the cloud "with the push of a button." And along with Hurd and Catz, he was fully engaged in touting Oracle's cloud strategy and taking aim at cloud application rivals Workday Inc. and

Oracle initially was slow to embrace cloud computing. But Ellison said today that the company's goal now is "being bigger in the cloud than Salesforce is." Oracle reported 32% growth in cloud services revenue year-to-year during Q1. "If we can continue those growth rates," Ellison said, "we think we're doing a pretty good job." He contended that Oracle is "the one big company with all the resources" required to lead a broad transition to the cloud. "It's an opportunity we're all focused on, and we're not going to miss it."

Oracle's roots began with a paper that Ellison read in the 1970s. The paper, "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks," was written by Edgar Codd, who was widely considered the father of relational databases. Ellison went on to develop a database for the Central Intelligence Agency, codenamed "Oracle," and then started his own company, which was eventually given the Oracle name in the early 1980s.

Long known largely as a database company, Oracle has spread its wings far and wide over the last 15 years into application software and -- with the massive acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2010 -- server hardware. The three together have led Oracle to push a strategy of "engineered systems," generically called converged infrastructure and based on the idea that software and hardware run optimally when they're specifically designed to work with one another. Supporters say the strategy leads to application performance improvements; detractors say it leads to vendor lock-in.

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