by Thomas Wailgum

Trouble Inside Oracle’s M&A Machine

Jun 16, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Did Larry Ellison's appetite for acquisition finally get the best of him with Sun? The financial and human costs keep adding up.

Larry Ellison doesn’t mind being in the spotlight. One can only imagine his ire at appearing for only a couple of seconds during his “Iron Man 2” cameo.

But Ellison and his underlings at Oracle are now facing a smattering of unwanted attention and financial turmoil as the vendor prepares to close the books on its fiscal year 2010 (the earnings call is on June 24).

After finally locking down the Sun Microsystems purchase in January, Oracle execs were as smug as Tony Stark when they boasted that they were going to hire 2,000 new salespeople—just as they were letting go 1,000 Sun workers.

But several recent news articles, blog posts and Oracle financial disclosures show that, with Sun Microsystems, Oracle executives’ appetite for acquisition might have led to a case of appetite for destruction: The buy is already costing Oracle hundreds of millions more than previously expected.

In a recent Oracle 8-K Filing, the company disclosed a hefty change in its “Sun Restructuring Plan”: On top of $325 million in costs already accounted for, Oracle added up to $650 million in additional costs related to the Sun Plan, as it’s known. “These additional costs will be restructuring charges related principally to employee severance costs,” stated the 8-K. A Marketwatch article cited an estimate by Citigroup analyst Walter Pritchard that the additional restructuring costs would cover anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 Sun jobs.

All that led Marketwatch’s Therese Poletti to question why Ellison had low-balled job cuts at Sun after he chastised industry observers, media outlets and anyone else who speculated about massive job cuts at Sun after the deal closed. Ellison stated that anyone doing that “should be ashamed of themselves.”

Perhaps Ellison & Co. simply screwed this purchase up: This particular big buy wasn’t its best buy?

Let us not forget that since 2003, Oracle has been an acquisition machine, for better (Oracle) and worse (the acquired vendors’ customers) gobbling up nearly 60 companies. (See: Oracle’s Decade of Acquisition: Innovative or Just Well-Financed?)

Whatever your opinion of Oracle and Ellison, they’ve got this M&A thing down pat.

Or so it seemed.

In a biting analysis of the Sun acquisition and why most big M&A deals actually fail, industry analyst Rob Enderle proclaims this: “The odds that [the Oracle-Sun purchase] will fail exceed the odds that it will succeed, regardless of how well Oracle does mergers—and it generally does them better than most.”

Sun had serious pre-merger problems, and Ellison knew it. At one point before the deal was sealed, Ellison admitted: “Sun is losing $100 million a month—$100 million a month. That’s a problem.” But according to Enderle, a perfect storm of inadequate due diligence and merger planning combined with the European Union delayed approval and a “no turning back” deal strategy all have combined to undermine the acquisition’s intended value.

Clearly, there was no turning around Oracle’s S.S. Acquisition once the ship left Larry’s Lagoon.

Remember, Oracle had done many big purchases before. And Larry’s got a bit of a Hollywood-sized ego. They don’t call him Tony Stark for nothing.

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