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October 1, 2010

Ex-SAP and Oracle bosses turn up at HP

Léo Apotheker and Ray Lane join HP - what will this mean for HP... and Oracle? Gary Flood finds out

By Cbr Rolling Blog

What a day in enterprise IT management yesterday was.

Ray Lane (ex Oracle Chief Operating Officer and one-time Pesident) has just joined HP as non-exec chairman… while the ex-CEO of the same company, Mark ‘Do I care?’ Hurd is sitting alongside Lane’s ex-boss and comrade L Ellison at Oracle. Oh, and did we forget to mention: HP has produced a new CEO out of the hat, too – and it’s no less than the man who used to run Oracle blood-rivals SAP.

The latter gentleman – third HP leader in less than ten years – is no less than Léo Apotheker, SAP chief executive from April 2008 until he was forced out eight months back by SAP ueberboss Hasso Plattner, to be replaced of course by twin-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe.

It has to be said; this is a great move by the HP board. Apotheker is a truly global figure, a man fluent in five languages with an exemplary track record in engagements at the very top of the IT world. The other appointment is just as interesting, in different ways.

For some of us, Lane coming back into the picture will evoke some warmth. Lane has been a VC at Silicon Valley top dogs Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers ever since he was rusticated from Oracle. In fact, Lane had his job taken away from him by a thousand cuts for 18 months before Ellison finally nuked him, with the charming flourish of a press release announcing his departure with no comment from him in it (hint if this ever happens to you; this is taken by expert observers to mean they fired your ass because someone really hated you).

Lane had been something of a controversial figure at Oracle in his day, of course – hired in to an already testosterone-rich organisation to beef up the then struggling applications business, his style was said to be somewhat aggressive.

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That doesn’t matter in any way as much as the really big question; would Apotheker-Lane now gear up HP to buy the former’s old company and really set the cat among the pigeons? On paper, HP has the money and the combination would be, well, really quite scary for an IBM or an Accenture.

Even if they don’t – HP now has some real leaders who know the software and services business inside out. The fact the board went this way and didn’t choose an insider – again – suggests that this is the future direction for the company, a direction marked by ambition.

Ellison and Hurd – you now really are facing the A-Team. This is a shot in the arm for HP to really go to the next level – not necessarily by a big purchase, but you don’t hire these guys instead of your technologists inside the company if you want more steady-as-she-goes, right?

But Lane coming back from the management dead does also prompt us to wonder about the dynamic that may be endemic to the way Ellison works. Lane was a player Larry hired in from outside to help him… and he ended up pushing him out. So was Chuck Philips… and now he has this dude Mark always hanging out in the office. How long before he starts thinking he’s in the way, too?

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