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Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd dead at 62, succession plan looms

Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd's abrupt death at 62 has put the software giant in the position of naming his replacement, and the decision could go one of a few ways, analysts say.

Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd has died at 62 from unspecified causes after a 40-year career in tech that also included runs as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and NCR.

Hurd took a leave of absence in September, citing a need to focus on his health. Rumors about Hurd's medical condition had swirled for many months prior to that, as he visibly wore a toupee in televised appearances and reportedly began to miss many meetings.

"It is with a profound sense of sadness and loss that I tell everyone here at Oracle that Mark Hurd passed away early this morning," Oracle CTO and executive chairman Larry Ellison said in a statement posted to Hurd's personal website. "Mark was my close and irreplaceable friend, and trusted colleague. Oracle has lost a brilliant and beloved leader who personally touched the lives of so many of us during his decade at Oracle."

Ellison may have given an indication of how serious Hurd's health was at last month's OpenWorld conference. During a keynote, Ellison referenced Hurd's absence and visibly teared up, pausing before he gathered himself enough to continue.

Mark Hurd, co-CEO, OracleMark Hurd

Hurd became president of Oracle in 2010, after his controversial run as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Critics assailed him for what they termed excessive cost-cutting at the expense of research and development. He ultimately left HP after a scandal that involved interactions he had with a company contractor, Jodie Fisher.

Ellison quickly installed Hurd as president of Oracle, putting him in charge of sales and marketing. Hurd was later named Oracle's co-CEO, along with Safra Catz, and continued in that role until September.

"Mark was instrumental in transforming how Oracle sells to customers," said R "Ray" Wang, founder and CEO of Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif. "He restarted a program to bring younger sales professionals into the organization and he was instrumental in helping to evangelize cloud apps and cloud infrastructure to customers.

"Our clients were well taken care of when we had any issues, as he would make sure the best person would address the issue and make good on his word," Wang added. "He'll be missed by many, especially the competitors."

Eyes on Oracle's CEO succession plan

Oracle has yet to name a replacement for Hurd, but in a meeting with analysts at OpenWorld, Ellison said he would present five candidates to the company's board in the event Hurd was unable to continue. He named two of them: longtime applications head Steve Miranda, and Don Johnson, who heads Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

Mark was instrumental in transforming how Oracle sells to customers.
R 'Ray' WangCEO and founder, Constellation Research

While Oracle has had success in the cloud with SaaS, it has struggled to make much headway in IaaS and PaaS. But it is placing a big bet on OCI, while shifting its positioning to more specialized workloads.

Dark horse candidates from outside the company could include SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who said last week he would not renew his contract after serving as sole CEO since 2014. On paper, McDermott is an unlikely choice, given the companies' fierce rivalry in applications.

But like Hurd, he is a natural salesman, and would have some built-in understanding of Oracle's business as a longtime competitor. McDermott also served under a co-CEO model at SAP and thus has experience navigating that dynamic.

Should Ellison choose a product-oriented executive like Miranda or Johnson, that would represent a significant change in approach for Oracle's C-suite. Hurd handled sales, while fellow CEO Safra Catz, a longtime Ellison confidant, runs operations and finance.

"Few technology leaders have changed the technology landscape like Hurd, first at HP and then at Oracle," said Holger Mueller, another analyst at Constellation Research. Hurd was always a numbers man and rational leader that fit very well within Oracle's culture, Mueller added.

"It's a good reminder of how much succession policies matter for enterprises, as disaster or illness can strike anytime," Mueller added.

Thomas Kurian, Oracle's longtime head of product development, left last year and became CEO of Google Cloud. Oracle's deep bench of executive talent mitigated the effect of Kurian's departure, Mueller said.

"Succession on the sales side could be a little harder, as Oracle has no global sales executive in place," Mueller said. It's an open question as to how Oracle will respond, whether by replacing Hurd with another CEO or going back to Catz under a single CEO model, he added.

Another, perhaps remote possibility, would see Ellison himself return to the CEO role. Ellison, 75, has assumed Kurian's duties since his departure and seemed fairly vital and energized at OpenWorld.

"Wall Street and its most important corporate customers will want to be clear on what is the succession plan," said Jean Bozman, senior industry analyst at Hurwitz & Associates in Needham, Mass. "It could be ... [Oracle's board of directors] will want Larry to step back in, although if he did, it would likely be for a short time, just as a way to reassure Wall Street," she said.

Oracle has several other options at its disposal besides bringing Ellison back in, according to Bozman, including making Safra Catz the sole CEO.

"She is very businesslike, and low-key," Bozman said. "She also has a long history with the company and been entrusted with a lot of responsibility. It is not out of the question she could become the sole CEO for at least the near term."

TechTarget news reporter Patrick Thibodeau contributed to this story.

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