In Memory of Mark Hurd
I worked with Mark Hurd for nearly a decade while I was chief customer officer at Oracle. I learned more from Mark than I did from anyone in my 40-year work life. He was the most customer-oriented top executive I have ever worked with. From my perspective, Mark was an executive who believed in Oracle and its technology to the core. He truly believed in what Oracle could do for organizations and for people. He argued about this passionately and regularly. And he expected the people who worked for him to be equally passionate.
Mark spent every ounce of energy he had—which seemed endless to me—on meeting with customers. He was the consummate salesman. And I mean that as a high compliment. Indeed, he was always selling, but he wasn’t selling products out of the Oracle catalog. He was selling ideas. Big ideas. Real strategies and solutions to the biggest problems that companies have: how to acquire more customers in a stagnating economy; how to retain top employees in brutally competitive labor markets; how to transform the way organizations go to market across more distribution channels than you can count.
These were conversations that only Mark Hurd could have—and he had them multiple times a day, around the world, across pretty much any industry you can think of, with CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, CHROs, you name it.
Since hearing about Mark’s passing just three days ago, I’ve given quite a lot of thought to the many things I’ve learned from him. I’d like to reflect on some of those things here.
What I Learned from Mark Hurd:
The best business you’ll ever do is built on relationships, trust, and reputation. I know this sounds trite, but Mark proved it to be true, over and over again. Countless Oracle customers made big decisions because of the sheer force of Mark’s reputation and their trust in him. It’s all about the personal connection and the fact that Mark Hurd stands behind the commitment that is being made and the technology being purchased. Of course, there were elaborate plans made, detailed business cases created, and board room approvals granted—but in many, many cases, the very last thing the customer CEO needed to know was “does Mark Hurd stand behind this?”
Sustained customer relationships require thoughtful, systematic engagement. Mark spent most of his time traveling around the country and the world for one reason—to engage with customers. Oracle is a big place with lots of talented people. There’s no shortage of capable experts who can meet with customers, answer their questions, solve their problems, shake their hands, and give them reassurances. But there was only one Mark Hurd. And Job One for Mark was to create a level of continuity and engagement with a remarkable number of customers.
Every situation requires a strategy. Whether we were selling, troubleshooting, presenting to a group of customers, or simply having a discussion, Mark was always thinking 3 steps ahead, and elevating both the objective and the conversation. He wanted everything we did to have a purpose – and he wanted the tactics employed to build to a distinct strategy.
Decisions—big and small—need sound measurement and analytics. Mark compelled all of us to present recommendations based on data that lines up with the operational and financial metrics that are important to the business. This may sound intuitively obvious, but I’m here to tell you that it’s easier said than done. Most of us are emotional decision makers, even in high-stakes business settings. Mark had an very consistent approach: just show me the data.
Being a great leader means being uncompromisingly demanding. Mark was tough. He expected the best, all the time. If it’s a deal, close it; if it’s a problem, solve it; if you need to get it done, just get it done. This is the exact right mindset for the moment, but it’s also the right behavior to model for the whole organization. And it’s especially right in an environment that’s as fast-paced and competitive as the technology business.
Be focused on the objective at hand. Whether it was doing a deal, working through a budget, solving a customer problem, hosting a customer meeting, or sitting with a reporter, Mark always demonstrated an unparalleled level of focus. In technology, with so many things coming at you all the time, this is hard to do. He somehow managed to juggle a million things and applied remarkable focus to one really important thing at a time.
Tell a great story. Mark had the innate ability to tell captivating stories: about the technology business; about the economy; about kids working for Oracle straight out of college; about his family; about all sorts of things—and then he would relate these stories to the current situation. He did this regularly with an audience of 1 and with an audience of 10,000. This ability to personalize situations and experiences to the otherwise cold world of commerce, competition, and the cloud brought humanity into the room.
Disarm tough situations with humor. There were countless times when we were in highly stressful situations and we needed to find a way forward. The only way that could have happened was for Mark to use humor as a tool to break the ice, to create an opening, to make everyone around the table feel that it was OK to start an honest and productive dialog. And it worked every single time. I’ve never seen anybody do that like Mark Hurd did.
I could go on, but I will cut it off here. I’d love to tell you that I’ve even modestly developed these abilities. But all I can really say for sure is that Mark was an unusually gifted leader and role model, and that I was lucky to have spent time with and learned from him.
As has been said many times already, Mark will be missed dearly.