Don't expect a kinder, gentler Oracle after sales executive's departure

Oracle's hard-driving sales culture isn't about to change, at least not easily or soon, according to industry observers

Oracle customers hoping that the pending departure of a top company executive will help pave the way for a kinder, gentler sales culture may be engaged in wishful thinking, according to industry observers.

Oracle confirmed Thursday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Keith Block, its long-time North American sales chief, is leaving to pursue other opportunities. Block will stay on for a period to time to help with the transition of his duties overseeing the territory, which accounts for a healthy chunk of Oracle's total revenue.

"Oracle revolves around alpha dog technology (i.e., database) sales reps, of which Block is/was the top," said Eric Guyer, a consultant who advises clients on deal negotiations with the vendor, in ablog post this week.

"It is also intensely rank and file," added Guyer, who once worked at Oracle in a number of roles. "If Keith Block feels this way, then his reports, and their reports, and their reports, etc., probably agree or will soon. I doubt that his departure represents a change in DNA. He delivered sales results for many years, and that keeps you employed at Oracle above all else."

Oracle's confirmation of Block's departure followed ample speculation he was being ousted over critical remarks he made about his superior, co-president Mark Hurd, and other aspects of Oracle's business. Block's statements, which he made via instant-message, recently emerged in court filings tied to Hewlett-Packard's ongoing lawsuit against Oracle.

The instant messages also reflect Block's reputation as an aggressive, highly competitive salesman. In one transcript, he used an expletive to describe what Oracle planned to do to HP and wrote that he was "a man on a mission on this." In another instance, he accuses a colleague of "stealing revenue" from him, and complains that Hurd is not focusing enough on "Loic," a likely reference to Loïc le Guisquet, Oracle's executive vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The instant messages are clearly the cause of Block's departure and not his performance, Guyer said in an interview Thursday.

Block's shoes will be hard to fill, said Guyer. "He's been in that position for so long, just by the nature of his tenure there, his leaving is not a good thing."

Oracle has tapped current cloud services head Joanne Olsen to take over North American application sales. It wasn't immediately clear Thursday who had been placed in charge of other areas, such as database and middleware.

Whatever happens, don't expect a rapid shift in how Oracle does business, said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "Oracle's a sales machine," he said. "Many of their business processes have been built over years. It'll take some time for changes to be implemented but good leadership could improve the type and style of customer engagement."

One big potential improvement is for Oracle to tamp down on the practice of "having multiple Oracle sales reps in database, middleware, and applications all call on you at the same time," whether intentionally or unintentionally, Wang said.

Block and an Oracle spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comment.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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