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Oracle's Larry Ellison downshifts, but leadership remains the same

Oracle's Larry Ellison downshifts, but leadership remains the same

The same three leaders at Oracle carry on, though their roles change

Don't mistake Larry Ellison's decision Thursday to step down as CEO of Oracle as a big change.

The leadership team remains the same, although the titles and jobs have shifted.

In his 37 years at Oracle, Ellison has been a major force at his company, and is someone known for being very much in control. He's not walking away from Oracle cold turkey, not by any stretch.

Oracle's management announcement made it explicitly clear that Ellison will continue to work "full-time" at the company. He will have two titles, executive chairman and chief technology officer, the latter likely being a more intense version of Bill Gates' job as "Founder and Technology Advisor" at Microsoft.

Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, formerly co-presidents of Oracle, will take on more responsibility as co-CEOs.

The change doesn't mean that Ellison, who recently turned 70, will have a less visible role at Oracle. He is scheduled to deliver the keynote at next week's Oracle OpenWorld, the company's big user conference.

One thing Ellison won't do at OpenWorld is to deliver a version of George Washington's Farewell Address. That would send a message much different than the one announced Thursday afternoon.

Ellison clearly remains a part of the same trifecta that remains in charge of Oracle, said John Rymer, an analyst Forrester. "It's the same people in the same roles, just different titles," said Rymer.

The issue for the two co-CEOs will be improving on Oracle's financial performance, and Thursday's earnings tell why. Hardware, in particular, which was off 8% to $1.2 billion in the most recent quarter, continues a downward drift.

New software licenses were at $1.37 billion for the quarter, a decline of 2% from the year-ago period. But on the plus side, software license updates and product support was at $4.7 billion, up 7%.

Overall revenues increased 3%, compared to a 2% gain from a year ago.

"They are not making progress," said Rymer. "They continue to come out with these reports that show flat revenues overall."

While the SaaS revenue is growing, it's still a small contributor overall, he said.

Catz became president of Oracle in 2004, and Hurd joined in 2010 after leaving Hewlett-Packard as CEO. Their roles may seem unusual, but they're not, said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT.

Management roles can be bifurcated, even if the titles don't always reflect duties, said King. Executive chairs, presidents, CEOs and COOs who may not be equal in power nonetheless contribute in large part an equal share toward the running of a company, he said.

Co-CEO roles, nonetheless, still remain somewhat rare in the IT industry. One notable exception was SAP's appointment of Jim Hagemann Snabe and Bill McDermott as co-CEOs, but Snabe left his post this year, putting McDermott in charge.

If Hurd and Catz succeed in improving the bottom line at the 120,000-plus employee firm, perhaps the co-CEO role will get a little more prominence.

For now, what happens at Oracle is "going to be a lab experiment that's going to be conducted in public," said King.

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