Late Oracle CEO Mark Hurd on mentoring as a leader

Oracle CEO Mark Hurd died on October 18, 2019, after taking a leave of absence for health reasons in September. Earlier this year, Business Insider had a chance to sit down with him for an episode of our podcast, “This Is Success.” We used the opportunity to discuss his career, with a focus on how his time at Oracle was marked by transformation during a time of upheaval in the IT industry. The following is a story about why he felt it was important to create a culture of mentorship at the company, and was originally published on April 16.

Oracle CEO Mark Hurd spent the first 25 years of his career at the IT company NCR Corporation, rising from a low-level manager to chief executive officer. As he told us for an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” “it was just an unspoken value in the company that if you could sit around and brag about all the great people you developed in the company who are now in senior positions, this was a merit badge. This was something you wore on your sleeve.”

It’s a value he says has faded with time. Companies were less willing to invest in employees in order to maximize short-term gains, and as he saw it, this affected the way managers viewed the significance of talent development.

When he joined Oracle in 2011 as president, he quickly developed a plan that would transform the software company in response to an approaching industry-wide shift to the cloud (which allowed the company’s products to be distributed online rather than through hardware). The shift was difficult then (and is still difficult now), but for it to succeed, Hurd decided that he needed to not only bring back the mentorship culture he learned in.

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As he explained:

“You would come out of college, and you would go to work at a company, and you would actually get trained by the company. You’d have trainers, enablers, people that would help you, teach you about how to sell, how to listen, how to communicate — all sorts of great skills that frankly I still use today. Training was looked at as an investment, not as an expense, and what happened over the years is that training again became viewed as an expense as opposed to an investment.

“And what began happening was all of this mercenary hiring. You’d go to work for this company, and then you’d go to another company, another company, another company, and it was a bit like all the companies putting their bad salespeople in the middle of the table and we’d just swap bad salespeople, with a strategy that your bad salesperson would be great once they came to our place.”

He developed the “Class Of” program, which took new college graduates and paired them with a manager. At this time, Oracle salespeople were still adapting to Hurd’s changes to the products they sold and the ways in which they sold them, and many weren’t happy that they now had the responsibility of training new hires.

Read more: Take an exclusive tour of Oracle’s new live-in campus in Austin, where college grads live, work and party together

The first few years of Hurd’s transformation of the company faced pushback from some veteran employees and analysts, but there was a general shift in tone when processes began to click. For Hurd, Oracle is still focused on refining these processes to take Oracle into a new era.

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Last year, Oracle completed a “Class Of” campus in Austin for new recruits, with a full capacity for 10,000 trainees. He’s happy with the progress he’s made in reviving an approach he considers so vital to his own career.

“There was no stock option for it — it was just a source of pride and a belief this was the way things were to get done,” he said. “We needed that inside of our company as well. And we still work on it today.”

You can listen to the full “This Is Success” episode below, or on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

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