Oracles Musical Chairs Scrutinized

UPDATED: Analysts don't expect the changing roles of several top executives at Oracle-including naming CFO Jeff Henley chairman-to amount to much.

The decisions by Oracle Corp. to split the chairman and CEO roles and name two top executives as president, announced late Monday, appear to be methodical steps, versus a castle takeover, according to industry observers.

Analysts and Oracle customers expect little immediate change in the direction of Oracle.

The split of the two top jobs keeps Larry Ellison, who founded the database and enterprise applications company, as CEO while making longtime Oracle Chief Financial Officer Jeff Henley the new chairman of the board, replacing Ellison.

/zimages/6/28571.gifIs Ellison stepping back? Find out here.

However, there is some indication that there was more at work than just good planning. Henley, who has been at Oracle for 13 years, was anxious to leave the company. The promotion was a way for Ellison, who has lost key executives in the past, to keep him.

Steve Vandivier, former president of the Mid-Atlantic Associate of Oracle Professionals and current president and CEO of Avanco International Inc., in McClain, Va., applauded the move to put a great deal of responsibility on Henleys shoulders.

"[Henley] is widely credited for leading [Oracle] back from the financial problems and reporting problems they had in the early 90s, and he has generally given Oracle a lot of credibility in the Wall Street community," said Vandivier. Many of his government clients still refuse to deal with Oracle because of the software makers early aggressive days, he added.

In addition, Vandivier sees Henleys promotion as a shrewd ploy by Ellison to retain a favorite lieutenant instead of joining the ranks of sharp minds that have departed, such as Ray Lane, Tom Siebel and Marc Benioff.

Oracles board also announced that executives Safra Catz and Chuck Phillips were both promoted to president positions, reporting directly to Ellison. Phillips has also joined Catz as a member of Oracles board. Its unclear whether the two will operate as co-presidents or as two separate presidents dividing the roles duties.

Oracle, one of the largest developers of database management systems and a top maker of business automation software for the enterprise, has not had a president since Lane resigned from that post in the summer of 2000.

Next page: What Catz and Phillips bring to the table.