-- The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --
By Robert Cyran
NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Larry Ellison’s anti-HP ranting has turned weirdly sloppy. Oracle’s billionaire chief executive and founder is known for his acerbic, and very often witty, tongue. Yet his latest late-night missive -- daring Hewlett-Packard’s new chief executive Leo Apotheker to show up in court -- looks more messy than sharply penned. Perhaps the prospect of tougher competition with HP is getting under Ellison’s skin after all.
The recent management travails of HP and its gaffe-prone board have been a rich target. Ellison has bluntly stated the company is on the wrong path, its best executives are underappreciated, the new boss is poorly qualified, and that the board is incompetent. All of these are relatively fair points, even if they are made by a rival.
But his latest rant, sent to the media at 11:11 p.m. New York time, is just bizarre -- at the very least in need of a copy edit. In grammatically-challenged fashion, he dares Apotheker to show up in court and disprove that he oversaw the massive theft of Oracle’s intellectual property while at SAP.
“Well, that’s what we are planning to do during the trial that starts next Monday. Unless, [chairman] Mr. Lane and the rest of the HP Board of Directors decide to keep their new CEO far, far away from HP Headquarters until that trial is over.”
SAP has admitted in court documents that its subsidiary stole Oracle’s software. That’s execrable conduct. But whether Apotheker was a ringleader, as Oracle claims -- or the man who argued for shuttering the division, as some in SAP’s camp have contended -- is unclear. Either way, Ellison has made the affair personal: “I hope I‘m wrong, but my guess is that new HP’s Chairman, Mr. Lane, will keep HP’s new CEO, Mr. Apotheker, far, far away from the Courthouse until this trial is over.”
Oracle already questioned Apotheker in a sworn deposition about the matter. Yet it didn’t name him as a definite witness until after he was appointed to lead HP. And contrary to what Ellison claims, Apotheker wasn’t given sole hand on the reins at SAP until after the division was shut down. Unless Oracle has dramatic new evidence it plans to unveil in court, Ellison looks like he’s protesting too much -- and frankly a bit out of control. Maybe it’s his board that needs more scrutiny.
-- Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison has said he can prove Leo Apotheker oversaw massive theft of Oracle’s intellectual property while he was a top SAP executive. Apotheker was recently appointed as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard.
-- SAP has admitted in court documents that it stole Oracle’s software. A trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 1 to determine damages. Oracle seeks $2 billion, while SAP says tens of millions of dollars would be reasonable.
-- Ellison, in a statement released late Oct. 26, wrote: “Unless, [chairman] Mr. Lane and the rest of the HP Board of Directors decide to keep their new CEO far, far away from HP Headquarters until that trial is over. If HP keeps Leo Apotheker far from HP headquarters we cannot subpoena him to testify at that trial. I don’t think Ray Lane wants to risk Leo Apotheker testifying under oath as to why he allowed the theft of Oracle’s property to continue for eight months after he was made sole CEO of SAP. I hope I‘m wrong, but my guess is that new HP’s Chairman, Mr. Lane, will keep HP’s new CEO, Mr. Apotheker, far, far away from the Courthouse until this trial is over.”
-- An HP spokesperson replied, “Oracle had ample opportunity to question Leo during his sworn deposition in October 2008 and chose not to include him as a trial witness until he was named CEO of HP. Given Leo’s limited knowledge of and role in the matter, Oracle’s last-minute effort to require him to appear live at trial is no more than an effort to harass him and interfere with his duties and responsibilities as HP’s CEO.”
Editing by Rob Cox and Emily Plucinak