Thomas Kurian is the key figure in the software powerhouse’s attempted reinvention, overseeing sweeping changes in its engineering and attitudes.
REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. — It was not all that difficult for the Silicon Valley software giant Oracle to pay $9.3 billion for a company called NetSuite. But then writing big checks has rarely been a problem for Oracle, which over the last 11 years has acquired dozens of companies in its quest to find more and more customers.
The hard part is now in the hands of Thomas Kurian, a soft-spoken 49-year-old who has to figure out how the new purchase will work with what Oracle already has.
While Larry Ellison, Oracle’s brash executive chairman, is still an outsize personality at the company he co-founded, Kurian has been the key figure in Oracle’s attempted reinvention, overseeing sweeping changes in its engineering.
Thomas Kurian, president of Oracle product development
Education: B.A., electrical engineering, Princeton; MBA, Stanford.
Career: Joined Oracle in 1996 after working for management-consulting firm McKinsey.
Pay for 2015: $800,000 salary, plus stock awards, options and other compensation that brought total to $36.6 million.
Source: NYT, Oracle
That includes creating a network of 21 data centers around the world, a project that has cost perhaps $15 billion, to power a cloud-computing network to compete with the established services provided by the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM. NetSuite is Oracle’s first major acquisition intended to tie right into this new global system.
“Money isn’t the problem for us,” said Kurian, who is Oracle’s president of product development. He added that “between 2004 and 2014 we spent some $40 billion to $45 billion on acquisitions.”
Kurian would seem an unlikely person to play such a key role in one of Silicon Valley’s iconic companies. Born and raised in a middle-class family in Bangalore, India, Kurian ended his first day in the United States in his freshman dorm room at Princeton University, which he shared with his identical twin, George, who is now chief executive at NetApp, another Silicon Valley company.
“The day we left India was the first day we saw a computer,” said George Kurian, who after graduation worked at Oracle while Thomas Kurian was a consultant at McKinsey. The two also went to Stanford Business School.
Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, both chief executives at Oracle, manage the company’s sales and finance. Ellison, who is 71 and shows no inclination to retire, counts on Kurian to run the core of any big tech company: thousands of engineers.
The NetSuite deal is something of a coming-out party for Oracle’s global cloud, possibly signaling the start of a new round of acquisitions, along with hefty spending to keep building out this network. But spending upward of $2 billion a year on building a cloud network, Kurian said, is table stakes for the biggest tech companies.
Kurian, who has been at Oracle for 20 years, is known to move quickly in meetings, seeking slides before a presentation and immediately zeroing in on the one slide where he spots a problem. If there are no problems, the meeting is canceled. Soft-spoken or not, he will let rip a profanity-laced tirade if he sees too many problems.
“I won’t comment on the language, but we are very honest with each other, very hard on ourselves and very direct,” said Steve Miranda, Oracle’s vice president of applications development. “If you’re striving to be the best of the best, it comes with the territory.”
As fast as Kurian moves Oracle down the technology field, the competition keeps moving the goal posts. Soon after the NetSuite deal, Amazon announced that its cloud business had second-quarter revenue of $2.9 billion. Just the amount Amazon’s cloud segment grew from the previous quarter, $320 million, was $90 million more than all NetSuite’s revenue for the second quarter.
Much of that revenue comes from selling bare-bones computing that Oracle doesn’t care about. But increasingly Amazon is offering its own databases, and customers are signing on. It targets Oracle directly at its promotional events and offers something called “serverless computing,” which charges for applications per line of code rather than monthly fees or upfront licenses — another potential threat to Oracle’s profit margins.
Oracle has built a large operation in Seattle, paying big for cloud talent from Amazon and Microsoft. (Google also has operations there, making Seattle something of the nation’s cloud town.) But local hands there say Oracle isn’t yet a noticeable presence.
“Right now, I go to all-day meetings, and their name doesn’t come up,” said Matt McIlwain, a managing director of the Madrona Venture Group, a Seattle venture firm.
The next big competition in cloud computing also involves artificial intelligence, fed by loads of data. Soon, Kurian said, Oracle will offer applications that draw from what it knows about the people whose actions are recorded in Oracle databases. The company has anonymized data from 1,500 companies, including 3 billion consumers and 400 million business profiles, representing $3 trillion in consumer purchases.
“Most of the world’s data is already inside Oracle databases,” Kurian said.
That’s the kind of hold on people’s information that perhaps only Facebook can match. But Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t sell business software. At least, not yet.