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Ray Lane Trash-Talks Mark Hurd

Has HP’s new incoming Chairman made his first dumb move?

Deteriorating relations between Oracle and HP took a turn for the worse Monday when incoming HP chairman Ray Lane embroidered on the Mark Hurd legend by telling the New York Times in a letter to the editor that the ousted HP CEO, now president of Oracle, was a liar.

That wasn’t a very smart thing for him to do considering Oracle is a few weeks away from calling HP’s incoming CEO Léo Apotheker to the stand as a witness in its suit against SAP for massive IP theft.

Apotheker, who’s been on the preliminary witness list for months, as HP’s board must have known, and made the final cut last week (they were expecting something else?), was CEO of SAP until he was fired early this year.

Lane ought to know better than to wave an antagonizing red cape in front of a charging Oracle CEO Larry Ellison because Lane used to be president of Oracle until he was run off the reservation 10 years ago.

The suit isn’t even about assigning blame. SAP has already admitted it did it. It just contests Oracle’s claims that what was ripped off by SAP subsidiary TomorrowNow, the now defunct cut-rate third-party maintenance operation it bought to harry Oracle, was worth upwards a billion dollars. SAP thinks it’s worth more like tens of millions of dollars.

Now with Lane trash-talking Hurd Apotheker will be lucky to get out of the courtroom with his job, let alone his reputation, intact. And the blowback will splatter all over HP’s board that hired him.

The guy Larry hired to prosecute the SAP case is David Boies, the hired gun the Justice Department brought in to prosecute its antitrust suit against Microsoft. The case he mounted permanently ruined Microsoft’s reputation and took half the fun out of its monopoly, even if the judge’s decision to split the company in two didn’t stick.

Dollars to donuts the boy now has a dual charter: get as much money as possible out of SAP and tar Léo Apotheker.

Innuendo is a wonderful thing. Even if Léo – who must now be spending valuable HP orientation time with SAP and HP lawyers prepping for the trial – testifies, as Lane suggests he will, that as a member of the SAP board, and as head of SAP sales and marketing – responsible for getting the Oracle customers that used TomorrowNow’s services to ultimately migrate to SAP’s alternative software – and as co-CEO of SAP he didn’t know what TomorrowNow was doing, he’s bound to come off looking incompetent and dangerous.

It also took him six months into his prematurely short eight-month term as sole CEO to lance the festering TomorrowNow boil and shut it down 18 months after Oracle sued. Oracle alleges TomorrowNow’s mischief went on all that time and that SAP higher-ups knew all about it from the beginning.

Lane meant to ride to Apotheker’s defense after Joe Nocera, one of the Times’ own, discovered the Oracle v SAP suit and used it to attack the HP board for its poor choice as Hurd’s replacement in a column Saturday.

Nocera is part of that apparently far-flung and expanding community that holds the HP board in disrepute and has savaged it a couple of times since it fired Hurd on what he believes are trumped-up charges.

Saturday he found another reason to question the board’s competence, accusing them of a having an ethical “double standard” – ostensibly firing Hurd for “minor expense account shenanigans” and then turning around and hiring “as its new CEO someone involved – however tangentially – with the most serious business crime you can commit.”

Lane figured to take the heat off Léo and the board by putting the spotlight back on Hurd.

“The bottom line is,” Lane wrote the Times, “Mr. Hurd violated the trust of the board by repeatedly lying to them in the course of an investigation into his conduct. He violated numerous elements of HP’s Standards of Business Conduct and he demonstrated a serious lack of integrity and judgment. The board was unanimous in its decision that he must go, including the seven directors Mr. Hurd recruited to the board. These directors would not have acted unanimously to remove Mr. Hurd for ‘piddling expense account problems’ as Mr. Nocera suggests. I was named to the board after Mr. Hurd’s departure, but having carefully reviewed all the facts, it is clear to me the HP board made the right decision. Had I been on the board at that time, there’s no question I would have voted the same way. The board simply had no alternative.”

Funny thing about Saturday columns, there’re not very well read. Famous people who are getting on and know the Times has their obit written and locked away against the day, pray a little prayer at night that goes, “Please, God, don’t let me die on a Friday” because they know that, if they do, their obit, the work of a lifetime, won’t get read.

Nobody was making anything of the Nocera piece until Lane lashed out at it.

If Lane hadn’t drawn attention to it, it might not have gotten passed around

the Valley like a bad case of the flu. But now it has and now the entire press corps, which was drowsing through the fact that, as fate would have it, the trial over how much SAP owes Oracle for its sins starts November 1 and that SAP’s ousted CEO, who will be formally ensconced as HP’s CEO at the same hour, is on the witness list, will be jostling for seats at the spectacle.

The gods of time and tide obviously smile on Larry Ellison.

Oh, by the way, it turns out that Nocera’s girlfriend is communications director at David Boies law firm.

The column, which the Times didn’t take down, is now sporting the following editors’ note: “In the Talking Business column in Business Day on Saturday, Joe Nocera wrote about a lawsuit by Oracle against a division of SAP, claiming theft of intellectual property. Mr. Nocera learned after the column was published that Oracle was represented by the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where his fiancée works as director of communications. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Nocera would not have written about the case if he had known of the law firm’s involvement.”

Good Lord, what do grown-up affianced people talk about these days!

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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