HR Tech 2012: Oracle’s Mark Hurd on Talent, Technology, and Growing Data

Oracle co-president Mark Hurd didn’t want to talk too much about Oracle’s HR technology when we sat down with him at a news conference after his speech yesterday on the last day of the 15th annual HR Technology Conference in Chicago.

But he did anyway.

In truth, the story of Oracle today is a story similar to many of the current and potential customers they faced at the conference this week. Their business is changing and growing. They’ve dealt with acquisitions of their own and their competitors continue to nip at their heels. They are dealing with growth (and yes, they are hiring in case you’re interested). They have concerns about talent as well.

Just another day working in HR, right?

What Oracle is doing in the HR tech space

All of it is part of a strategy The Wall Street Journal described as his re-emergence. If he has been hiding, Hurd hasn’t been slacking off. He didn’t deny that he pushed hard to get the Taleo acquisition complete. In the news conference later, he switched effortlessly between gregariousness, sharp talking points, and a snarky competitive streak. And he’ll probably have many more conversations like the one he had with the remaining press at the show.

According to Hurd, Oracle is investing $5 billion in research and development alone. If you’re looking for a job, that’s where they are hiring (in addition to sales and other customer facing positions). Hurd also spent time reiterating Oracle’s commitment to current PeopleSoft and Taleo customers as Oracle transitions to their Fusion application platform for HCM. It was apparent that he didn’t feel like the message about helping with support and transition management was heard loud enough.

Hurd also spent some time talking to us about the data crunch as Oracle sees it.

“From 2012 to 2020, the amount of data we produce is going to grow by 12 times,” said Hurd. “So if you’re a company who has 10 petabytes of data, what does that mean? Most banks have 100 petabytes of data.” At some point, compression, cloud storage and data centers are going to play an even more important role and Oracle feels like it is well-suited to serve enterprise needs in all of those regards.

Are more acquisition coming?

He also didn’t close the door on more acquisitions down the road. Hurd noted that, “We have $32 billion in cash and if there are opportunities, we’ll consider them.” It certainly doesn’t mean they are going out of their way to make an acquisition right now and it seems very likely that their next acquisition would not be in the HCM space.

What might be more interesting, especially if you aren’t a customer of Oracle, is how interested he is in HR.

For one, he believes in getting good value for the talent he gets. “I want the best people, period,” he said. “And I want them at the lowest cost.” In clarifying, he said that he doesn’t expect that he has the lowest cost talent, just the best people for as much as it takes to get them (and not much more).

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In managing employees, he has a pretty simple philosophy: recognize the things you want people to do.

“If employees see me recognizing and promoting people who make sales, build products, they’ll see that,” Hurd said. “And if they see you recognizing and promoting people because you like them, they’ll see that too.”

Making better hiring decisions

Having that consistent message and action throughout his internal dealings is something that more executives could emulate. If you talk about the great meritocracy you have but you’re promoting people due to politics, your employees instant recognize what’s important. Employees want to know why you’re doing something, especially when it involves a promotion.

Hurd is also a big believer in the strong employer brand they’ve built. When posed with the question of how a skills or candidate gaps in certain disciplines is impacting the talent landscape Oracle deals in, he seemed non-plussed by the challenges.

He stated, “We have a strong brand so we haven’t really experienced that.” Hurd‘s focus is rightly on finding ways of making better hiring decisions. He seems clearly obsessed with getting great people into his organization — he mentioned it a dozen or more times — but still feels like the supply isn’t as big of an issue as advertised.

If Oracle feels as strongly about their products as they seem to be, they will be getting their co-president in front of a lot more groups of current and potential customers like they did at the HR Technology Conference this year. And here’s hoping this is one executive who won’t stop talking about the importance of talent just because he isn’t at the HR tech conference anymore.


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