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Oracle CEO’s Untimely Death Creates Cloud of Uncertainty for the Tech Company

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:11 PM
Gerelyn Terzo
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:11 PM

Mark Hurd, who has been at the helm of software giant Oracle for the past half-decade, has died at 62 years old. It’s no doubt a blow to the company, where Hurd has shared the CEO spot with Safra Catz since Oracle founder Larry Ellison backed away from the role in 2014 .

Like much of traditional tech, Oracle, which has a four-decade history, has been struggling to gain market share in its cloud business, where companies such as Amazon and Google have taken the lead. Now one executive who is reportedly on Ellison’s shortlist  to take the co-CEO spot is Don Johnson, executive vice president of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure product development . It goes to show the importance and competitive nature of the cloud market, one that Oracle isn’t alone in trying to navigate.

Investors did not abandon the stock Friday, with ORCL shares down only fractionally in the trading session. The stock did suffer sharper declines about a month ago, however, when Hurd took a leave of absence from Oracle for health reasons, so the bad news could already be baked into the stock.

oracle chart
Source: Yahoo Finance

Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) isn’t the first company to suddenly lose its CEO, nor is it the first corporation that has tried a dual-CEO structure though it is one of the few businesses that have had success with it.

Coca-Cola Lost Its CEO in the Nineties

Sadly, former Coca-Cola chief executive Roberto Críspulo Goizueta Cantera, a Cuban immigrant, died suddenly in 1997. He was reportedly the key to the company’s $59 billion of market value added (MVA)  under his leadership, CNN Money reported two years before his death. Coca-Cola’s market value ballooned from $4 billion to $150 billion while he was CEO . And while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, the company is still growing. Today, Coca-Cola’s stock had something to celebrate when it announced stronger than expected quarterly revenue results thanks to sales of Coke Zero Sugar and popular grip-sized cans .

Dual-CEO Structure Isn’t Easy

The dual-CEO structure is something that Larry Ellison presciently put into place at Oracle , a decision that he recently defended:

“I believe in a dual-CEO structure. The normal case would be dual CEO here for obvious reasons. That it’s good to have capacity and good to have specialization. And then, God forbid, if something untoward should happen, you have capacity; you are not incapacitated.”

Not every company that has attempted the dual-CEO structure, however, has had success. Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Deutsche Bank are three examples of major companies that abandoned a dual-CEO structure after it became apparent that it was doing more harm than good. The fact that Ellison is able to make it work is a testament to the climate at Oracle, one whose future has become clouded with Hurd’s untimely passing.