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Oracle loses CFO after just four months

Oracle Corp. chief financial officer Greg Maffei is leaving after just four months on the job, marking the second time this year that the business software maker has lost its top accounting executive.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Oracle Corp.’s chief financial officer, Greg Maffei, is leaving after just four months on the job, marking the second time this year that the business software maker has lost its top accounting executive.

Maffei, 45, plans to work for another undisclosed company, according to a statement Oracle released by Thursday after the stock market closed.

“Greg has told us he’s looking at a terrific professional opportunity,” Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said in a statement.  “We wish him well.”

Maffei will remain with Oracle until Nov. 15 and then turn over the CFO duties to company co-President Safra Catz, a former investment banker who handled the job for 3½ months earlier this year.

The Redwood Shores, Calif-based software maker announced the news on the same day industry analyst Rick Sherlund of Goldman Sachs issued a research note questioning Maffei’s employment status.

Sherlund’s report, which focused on Maffei’s mysterious absence from Oracle for the past two weeks, spurred a series of media inquiries and stories that led to the confirmation of Maffei’s departure.

It marked a sobering comedown from late June when Oracle proudly announced it had hired Maffei, who rose to prominence in the late 1990s as the CFO for Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker. (MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

Maffei’s defection comes at a pivotal time for Oracle, the world’s second largest software maker behind Microsoft. The company is still trying to digest its $11.1 billion takeover of longtime rival PeopleSoft Inc. as it gears up to complete a $5.85 billion acquisition of another competitor, Siebel Systems Inc.

“My resignation from Oracle is not a reflection on the company, its executives or employees,” Maffei said in a statement.

One of Oracle’s biggest rivals, Germany-based SAP AG, seized on Maffei’s departure as a marketing opportunity.

“The loss of a trophy CFO like this puts a very interesting question mark on Oracle,” SAP spokesman Bill Wohl said. “Right now, Oracle is doing a pretty good job of making SAP look like a better choice for customers.”

Maffei’s departure is bound to reflect poorly on Oracle, said Piper Jaffray analyst David Rudow. “This doesn’t change any of the business fundamentals, but it makes you worry about the way the company is picking its people,” Rudow said.

Garban Institutional Equities analyst Richard Williams said Maffei’s defection indicates Oracle is having difficulty finding a CFO who can coexist with a strong-willed executive team led by the domineering Ellison.

“This appears to be about a clash of titanic egos and, at Oracle, there is only one ego that ultimately matters,” Williams said.

Maffei replaced Harry You, who left Oracle in March to take another job after just eight months as the company’s CFO. You had replaced Jeff Henley, who held the job for 13 years before stepping aside to lighten his work load and become Oracle’s chairman.

Although You left to become the CEO at another smaller company, his departure also triggered talk that he may have clashed with Catz, who carries out many of Ellison’s marching orders.

Adjusting to Oracle’s autocratic culture may have been particularly difficult for Maffei after working at Microsoft, which has a reputation for being slightly more collegial, Williams said.

“Oracle is a tough place to work; it’s like a battle every day,” Piper Jaffray’s Rudow said.

The tensions have driven many other prominent executives from Oracle, with some of them going on to start or run other Silicon Valley software makers.

Ellison has pointed to Oracle’s management churn as an indication of his ability to cultivate savvy executives. He has occasionally likened Oracle to General Electric Co., which has produced a long line of managers who have gone to become CEOs at other prominent companies.

Oracle lured Maffei to the company with an $800,000 salary and 4 million stock options with an exercise price of $12.55 per share. He needed to remain at Oracle for four years to vest in the stock options. If it’s determined that Maffei resigned for “good cause,” he will be entitled to a $3.2 million severance payment, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.