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CEOs Leading the World Into the Cloud: Mark Hurd

Cloud computing has transformed the tech world in a short time, pushing businesses of all kinds to adopt software and services that can be used anywhere, and on any machine. Some huge hardware and software companies have been left behind, but others have changed the way they work and what they offer to become major providers of cloud computing technology. This is the second article in a three-part series on the CEOs of some of the largest tech companies in the world, and how they’ve helped their organizations adapt to, and thrive with, cloud computing.

Who is Mark Hurd?

How did a guy who got his start at a company known for making cash registers and ATMs wind up leading one of the largest cloud computing companies in the world?

For Mark Hurd, the CEO of Oracle, the answer lies in his approach to leadership. He’s said that “inertia is always our biggest enemy,” and through three CEO positions spanning nearly two decades, he’s worked hard to propel lumbering technology companies into the future.

Hurd’s professional career began in 1980 when he joined the San Antonio sales team of NCR, one of the oldest “tech” companies in America. Its founding in 1884 predates General Electric’s creation by eight years, and for much of its history, it produced cash registers — NCR originally stood for National Cash Register. NCR began producing its own computer systems two years after Hurd joined the company, but for much of his time there, NCR was known best for its ATMs.

It wasn’t until AT&T bought NCR in 1991 and combined the ATM maker with Teradata, its existing database systems and data-warehousing subsidiary, that Hurd’s career as a tech executive truly took off. By 1996, AT&T had decided to spin out the combined NCR-Teradata as an independent company.

Three years later, in 1999, Hurd took command of Teradata in the once-again independent NCR. He built Teradata into a $1.2 billion business over the next four years, and after further promotions that resulted in successful stints as NCR’s president and chief operating officer, Hurd became NCR’s CEO in 2003.

Hurd’s second time at the helm

This track record brought him to the attention of Hewlett-Packard’s board of directors in 2005 as they grappled with replacing ousted CEO Carly Fiorina. By the time HP hired Hurd, he’d already quadrupled NCR’s stock price in just two years. The stock market reacted to news of his new role at HP by sending HP shares 7 percent higher and shares of NCR 14 percent lower the day his HP hiring was made public. There aren’t many executives who command that kind of response from Wall Street.

Within four years, Hurd transformed a formerly-floundering HP into the world’s largest technology company by revenue. He solidified HP’s market leadership in PCs and printers and also began the company’s push into higher-margin software and services, a push that culminated in the 2015 separation of Hewlett-Packard into hardware-focused HP Inc. and software and services specialist Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Some notable acquisitions during Hurd’s tenure at HP included: software developer Mercury Interactive for $4.5 billion; Opsware — one of the first self-identified software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies in the world — for $1.6 billion; IT consulting firm EDS for $13.9 billion; and networking hardware manufacturer 3Com for $2.7 billion.

At HP, Hurd was also an early pioneer of streamlined tech infrastructure, a hallmark of cloud computing. Four years into his HP tenure, Hurd had reduced the number of applications the company used by 75 percent, had the company running on 92 percent fewer data centers, and cut its internal IT department by 11,000 people. His efforts to standardize and streamline HP’s hardware and software would closely parallel later efforts at Oracle to do the same for that company’s customers.

The Opsware acquisition had a major impact on Hurd’s streamlining efforts, as its data center automation technologies would presage key benefits of cloud-computing SaaS and IaaS applications, which Hurd has championed at Oracle. Hurd, an operations guy to the core, has often expressed a straightforward view on the operational advantages of cloud computing:

“The cloud is really not just a technology. Frankly, it's more of a strategy. It's more of a business model. It's more of a way of thinking about how things are going to get done.”

Oracle of cloud computing

Hurd left HP in 2010, having overseen a doubling of the company’s stock price and a 60-percent rise in revenues despite leading the company through the worst worldwide economic recession in nearly a century. He soon landed at Oracle, trading in his role of updating a hardware company to compete in an increasingly software-focused world for one where he would transform a pre-Internet database software titan to world-class cloud competitor.

The Oracle role presented a collaborative opportunity for Hurd. He served as one of two company presidents alongside longtime Oracle financial executive Safra Catz, with both reporting to founder and CEO Larry Ellison. When Ellison stepped down to become CTO in 2014, he elevated Hurd and Catz as CEOs, a rare scenario in Silicon Valley, where authority typically flows downward from a single executive.

Ellison’s faith in Hurd was built on the longstanding relationship between HP and Oracle, which had been a major buyer of HP hardware to run its network infrastructure. At the time of Hurd’s hiring, however, Oracle was in the process of digesting its $7.4 billion acquisition of networking hardware and software company Sun Microsystems.

Bringing Hurd on board seemed like the perfect move for Ellison. Ellison praised his skill as a systems integrator, saying, “There is no executive in the IT world with more relevant experience than Mark. Oracle’s future is engineering complete and integrated hardware and software systems. Mark pioneered the integration of hardware with software when Teradata was a part of NCR.”

This talent for integration would soon be put to use driving Oracle to the cloud. Within a year of Hurd’s hiring, Oracle rolled out the Public Cloud, its first significant software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, and it’s been rapidly expanding and refining its cloud offerings ever since.

Transforming the database giant

True to Hurd’s talent as a systems integrator, Oracle has become known as a provider of “hybrid” cloud solutions, in which some aspects of their customers’ cloud systems run on Oracle’s data centers and some operate locally. This arrangement is rare among major cloud providers but critical for certain security- and regulation-sensitive businesses like banks or telecom companies. Hurd pointed out the advantages this offers to such companies:

“One of Oracle’s core differentiators is the fact that most of our competitors are either all cloud or all on-premises. The fact that we can do both and be able to align those two worlds, I think, becomes a very critical capability of Oracle’s that our customers benefit from.”

This doesn’t mean that Oracle hasn’t embraced fully-public cloud offerings. In fact, they now operate one of the most advanced and distributed cloud data center networks in the world, with 19 locations currently operating and another 12 slated to be opened in the near future. When Oracle announced the opening of its 12 new data centers, Hurd said:

“The future of IT is autonomous. With our expanded, modern data centers, Oracle is uniquely suited to deliver the most autonomous technologies in the world… And with our global datacenter expansion, we are able to help customers lower IT costs, mitigate risks and compete like they never have before.”

When Mark Hurd joined Oracle, it was known primarily as a database company that served the world’s largest businesses with complex solutions installed on-premises. Today, it’s becoming known more for its huge array of SaaS, PaaS, and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings, which together combine to create one of the deepest rosters of cloud services in the world.