Monday, September 30, 2013

Does Ellison's #oow13 no-show matter?

I waited about blogging about this for a few days because of work commitments. But my wait gives me the opportunity to look at the topic from a broader perspective.

The topic, you ask? While I didn't blog about it, I did write about it on Google+ - and even then, my opinions were divided.

The topic, you ask? Well, doesn't everybody know about it? Isn't everyone talking about it? I mean, back on September 24, everyone was talking about it. OK, well, a few people were talking about it, but you can bet that if you were in a specific corner of San Francisco, tens of thousands of people were talking about it.

The topic, you ask? OK, I'll get to it.

Traditionally at the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference, Larry Ellison gives two keynote speeches - one on Sunday night, and the other later in the week. He gave the Sunday night keynote, but when Tuesday rolled around, he wasn't there.

Oracle Corp CEO Larry Ellison skipped a keynote address at his software company's massive annual customer conference on Tuesday to be on San Francisco Bay as his Oracle Team USA made a comeback in the America's Cup.

Hundreds of Oracle OpenWorld attendees streamed out of San Francisco's Moscone conference center after an Oracle executive announced that Ellison was still on a boat and would not attend the keynote presentation, a focal point of the annual event.

The event reminded me of something that happened back at Oracle OpenWorld 2007. When Ellison gives his keynotes, many people try to get into the room to see them. Even though I was at Oracle OpenWorld 2007, I didn't bother to try to get into the room; I was in another room in the Moscone Center, watching the keynote via television. Therefore, I didn't realize that when Ellison left the stage during a demo, a number of people streamed out of the hall where Ellison had been speaking.

Those people weren't at Oracle OpenWorld to learn about Oracle.

Those people were at Oracle OpenWorld to see Larry Ellison. And when Ellison left the stage, there was no reason for those people to stay. (In the end, the last laugh was on those people, because after the demo ended, Ellison returned to the stage for Q&A, and the people who walked out weren't there.)

Fast forward to 2013, when Ellison didn't even show for his own keynote. As one can expect, reaction at the time was immediately negative. Barb Darrow at GigaOM:

Frankly, in the past Ellison’s second keynotes at Oracle OpenWorld were proof positive that less can be more. Still, if the CEO of a company under threat can’t be bothered to show up at his own massive customer event (Oracle claims 60,000 attendees this year), shareholders might wonder what’s up.

Chris Kanaracus at PC World:

Boris Aguirre, a systems integrator and Oracle professional from Ecuador, had stood in line for 30 to 40 minutes. “I felt like the America’s Cup thing was more important [to Ellison] than the event,” he said. “From the perspective of my clients, I feel it was not good.”

Aguirre thought that Thomas Kurian, Ellison's replacement, was "boring." But the more damning assessment came from an analyst:

Ellison’s move did little for Oracle’s customer relations, said analyst Michael Krigsman of consulting firm Asuret.

“While Oracle asks customers to prioritize its products over competitors, Ellison made the decision that racing, his passion and hobby, is more important than customers,” Krigsman said via email.

Certainly, in the heat of the moment on September 24, people were angry. But after the entire week was over and people started filing their recaps, the perception was a little different. In Silicon Angle, Maria Deutscher started her recap by speaking about the announcements in Ellison's first keynote. The second non-keynote wasn't even mentioned. Larry Dignan at ZDNet did the same.

The truth is, there is so much going on at Oracle OpenWorld that the lack of one of the two Ellison keynotes didn't really matter, in terms of information shared. There are all sorts of sessions at Oracle OpenWorld that provide all sorts of information. Although I didn't check, I'd be willing to bet that Oracle added extra technical sessions to discuss the in-memory stuff, for example.

And if you're being honest, you'll admit that Ellison's no-show did NOT send a signal to the entire company. I don't think there's an Oracle sales rep who is now saying, "You know, I think I'll skip that meeting with the customer and go play golf instead."

And even in terms of corporate governance, Oracle wasn't impacted by Larry's "I'm on a boat" routine. I mean, the company has TWO presidents. Talk about built-in redundancy.

So while the no-show looked really bad on Tuesday, it's probably all but forgotten a week later, unless you have an ax to grind with Ellison anyway.

But perhaps the Larry groupies will think twice before waiting in long lines to get into Moscone North for a 2014 keynote. You can just watch it on TV, after all.
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