by Thomas Wailgum

10 Lessons Learned from the HP-Oracle-SAP-NY Times Saga

Oct 15, 2010
Enterprise Applications

What we've learned about Ellison, Apotheker, Hurd and others brawling in this high-stakes, Hollywood-style slugfest.

What a strange past couple of months it’s been: It all started with Mark Hurd’s abrupt departure from HP’s CEO spot in August. And it just ended with Joe Nocera, of The New York Times, flogging newly hired HP CEO Leo Apotheker for his dislike of Oracle and HP for the “odd” CEO hire.

In between the firing and hiring of HP’s CEO, there’s been plenty of corporate intrigue, chest thumping and public displays of disaffection among the biggest tech vendors in the world: HP, Oracle, SAP and IBM.

But what have we learned? Oh, plenty, my friends, plenty. Here are my 10 favorite lessons learned:

1. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison takes cares of his tennis partners. Ellison and Hurd are long-time buddies on the tennis court, and Ellison volleyed his share of insults at the HP board when they forced Hurd out, penning a letter to The New York Times in Hurd’s defense. Ellison then hired Hurd as co-president as soon as was legally possible. “Mark did a brilliant job at HP, and I expect he’ll do even better at Oracle,” Ellison gushed. (I wonder if Mark will have to let Larry win now?)

2. Joe Nocera and his fiancée might need to spend some more “quality time” together. He, the famous business columnist of the Times who wrote disparagingly about Apotheker’s involvement in Oracle’s lawsuit against SAP (where Apotheker was formerly CEO); and she, the director of communications for the law firm representing Oracle in said lawsuit against SAP. Conflict of interest? Nocera pleaded innocence, claiming he didn’t know of her firm’s involvement in the case. We’re lead to conclude, then, that there’s definitely no pillow talk going on there. Right.

3. What the heck is an SAP?? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Either SAP needs to do a better job marketing itself, or it’s possible that a large swath of people will never really care to know about a $15 billion German business software company that runs most of the Fortune 500. When HP hired Apotheker, it was astonishing to watch U.S. media outlets puzzle over Apotheker (Who Is This Guy?), listen to them mangle the pronunciation of his name and dig up “breaking news” facts about the global ERP vendor. (The best example is the Oracle-SAP lawsuit, which has been going on for more than three years, people!) It seems like there’s a bunch of Silicon Valley startups, still working out their parents’ basements, with more buzz than SAP.

4. HP’s Board has taken more cheap shots than Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan combined. HP’s board members have become a proverbial punching bag—Ellison, Jack Welch and many, many others have piled it on. The allegations of “incompetence” leveled against the HP board centered on the fact that the group overlooked good internal CEO candidates and went outside the “HP Way” again (with Hurd before Apotheker, and Carly Fiorina before Hurd). Did HP’s Board deserve the bashing? Time will tell.

5. Ray Lane is back, baby! The one-time Oracle president and COO, Lane came out of VC life at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to take his talents to HP’s boardroom as chairman. And it wasn’t long before Lane took the gloves off: In a letter to the Times, he blasted Nocera’s column on Apotheker and defended the hire and HP board, and dissed Hurd (and his old boss) in the process. Speaking of fighting…

6. HP CEO Apotheker is a combination of Mr. T, Chuck Norris and James Bond. We knew that Apotheker was fluent in five languages. But according to tech analyst Jason Maynard, quoted in Nocera’s column, Apotheker is “as tough as nails and chews glass for breakfast.” Hmmm. Maybe he didn’t need his new chairman Lane to fight his battles for him by penning that nastygram to Nocera?

7. The New York Times is the place for unhappy tech execs to send their complaints. In this age of blogs, instantaneous Facebook updates and never-ending press releases, it appears that high-tech execs (Ellison, Lane, et. al) love nothing better than to pen a letter to the Gray Lady. How antiquated!

8. Charles Phillips is keeping a low, low profile. Phillips once-promising career at Oracle flat-lined in a New York Minute (see: Times Square billboard and the photos of him and a woman who was not his wife) and “retired” when Hurd joined Oracle. However, if the last month or so teaches us anything, it’s that every tech exec can get a second chance (see: Hurd, Mark V.; Apotheker, Leo).

9. IBM: “Hey, what about us?!” During the HP-Oracle-SAP scrum, IBM has been sitting on the sidelines. Oh sure, CEO Samuel Palmisano took some shots at HP (and Hurd), then praised Oracle (and Ellison). Don’t worry, Sam, Larry’s coming after you, too. Which leads us to…

10. High-tech has become like Hollywood, with allegiances and partnerships changing with every new press release. Billions of dollars at stake can make for some strange bedfellows, your most bitter rival could be your next boss, and your enemies’ enemies might just be your best friend. As Leo Apotheker would say, C’est la vie!

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at