Oracle's Ellison and Hurd Take Aim at HP and IBM

Last Updated Sep 8, 2010 11:39 AM EDT

Oracle's Ellison and HurdSo, you thought that little sexual harassment and fudged expense reports scandal at HP last month was drama? That all the fun was over when CEO Mark Hurd got the boot? Not so fast. The fun's just starting and the stakes are way higher than a CEO's job.

Not only did HP's board screw up royally when it forced Hurd to resign. After all, the guy singlehandedly brought HP back from the dead in one of the most successful turnarounds in corporate history.

Not only did HP's board make "the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs," as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison so aptly put it at the time.

But now, Ellison has hired his friend to be his partner and take on HP and IBM for leadership of the IT universe. Now that, my friends, is drama.

And you know what? I think they can actually pull it off. I also think the lawsuit HP filed against Hurd shows that HP's board is scared s***less, that they're just beginning to realize what a mess they've gotten themselves into. And it's not the first time, lest anyone forget Carly Fiorina.

Well, there's plenty for HP and IBM to be scared about, according to the Wall Street Journal:

By hiring Mr. Hurd, Mr. Ellison upped the ante in a battle among the few remaining big technology companies to expand revenue by reaching beyond their traditional turf and into each others'--in part to become one-stop shops for businesses that might have bought previously from several major technology purveyors.

Mr. Ellison has said that Oracle plans to acquire more hardware companies. Mr. Hurd will help Oracle with that strategy because he has broad experience across the tech industry, having been chief executive of automated-teller-machine maker NCR Corp. prior to joining H-P in 2005.

"I believe Oracle's strategy of combining software with hardware will enable Oracle to beat IBM in both enterprise servers and storage," Mr. Hurd said in a written statement on Monday.

Of course Hurd mentions IBM, not HP, which is wise considering that he left HP with a $35 million termination package. But if Oracle's targeting IBM - which it is - then by definition it's targeting HP, since they're all fighting for the same turf.

As for HP's lawsuit, which seeks an injunction to stop Hurd from joining Oracle because the move supposedly constitutes a breach of the trade secret confidentiality clause in his exit agreement, well, I'm just not buying it.

California courts have consistently shot down non-compete clauses in employment and exit agreements, and HP's claim that Hurd will transfer trade secrets by working for Oracle is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to keep him from joining a competitor.

So, what started out as a scandalous affair may very well turn into a courtroom drama. But when it's all said and done, it'll likely end up a high-stakes battle for the ages, with Oracle's new dynamic duo - Ellison and Hurd - pitted against HP's chronically hapless board of directors, and whoever they hire to clean up the mess they created.

And may the best - and least dysfunctional - IT company win.