In an obvious reference to justifying an open alliance with Iosif Stalin, Sir Winston Churchill dared to publicly state that “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”.
Quite a bold statement, indeed, for it was pretty much inconceivable at that time that the British people would find themselves friends with the arch-enemy, Bolshevik Soviet Union.
If we review Winston Churchill’s memories, we can even find traces of personal friendship (at least to Sir Winston’s perception) at the same level of the one the author declares for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Of course, the situation in Europe and the rest of the world at that time more than justified such strange friendship, beyond a simple political and military alliance, and what Sir Winston really meant was that if Stalin was bad, Hitler and Nazism was even worse. He was choosing to oppose the Greater Evil.
However, we are not so unfamiliar to seeing weird friendships every now and them in areas such as war or politics, aren’t we? And, should we accept the thesis that business is not much different of war and politics, we should be used to seeing strange partnerships at different levels in this environment too. Like the case of the HP merger with Compaq, or the sudden reconcilement of Dell and EMC.
Furthermore, sometimes strange friendships in business go beyond mergers or alliances and reach individuals. The most recent case we have learned about has to do with Mark Hurd’s hiring by Oracle.
One of the most frequent reasons quoted to justify or explain Hurd’s acceptance of a job below the ranking of a CEO was that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Mark are friends, buddies, pals and other synonyms, besides the fact of playing tennis together every now and then.
Leaving aside that tennis matches by these two individuals would probably be similar to watching a Jane Fonda’s remake of one of her honeymoons (Ellison being 66 and Hurd being 53 is no sophomore match despite how gallant their sports style was thirty years ago), their so-called friendship still has a lot to go through to be understood or simply trusted.
After all, Hurd was still leading the HP armies when Larry Ellison started a de-facto war by stepping into the hardware business after having purchased Sun Microsystems. A Sun in the Twilight was no match to Hurd’s hordes, of course, but backed by the power of the Oracle, it could quickly turn into a serious threat.
In such situation, it could not possibly be a part of the Oracles’ wildest dreams to get Hurd on board…but then mysterious Fate in the form of a non-sophomoric (Jodie Fisher is 50) scandal struck the industry, forced Hurd’s way out of HP, and opened the opportunity for the Oracle, who simply ignored everything after Hurd’s ouster and quickly got him into the ranks.
Hurd did probably not hesitate much, and soon was presented as co-President of the Oracle, reporting to Larry Ellison, in hail and praise. He succeeded Charles Phillips, who, by the way, was not precisely candidate to sainthood himself.
From bitter foes to intimate friends in a matter of days? Difficult to believe, despite whatever business HP and the Oracle might have done in the past, and despite how many “alliances” they formed.
Was not Ellison “making at least a favorable reference to Hurd in front of his own particular House of Commons”? We believe he did. And then, naturally, the next question is sort of obvious: Who is then the Greater Evil? Well, we think that Ellison is so proud of himself that he could eventually believe himself a sort of Hercules fighting against an Hydra or IBMs, SAPs, HPs and a portion of the rest of the Universe.
Going forward, we as well see deeper parallelism with Sir Winston’s case, if we look to the personal level of this weird friendship. As in the Churchill-Stalin case, there is probably a love-hate and fear-attraction mutual feeling between the two. In our opinion, Hurd wants to become CEO again, and should Oracle get to the dominant position Ellison wants it to be, hitting the CEO job by then would be a more than acceptable settlement for him to cool down his testosterone…
On the other hand, Ellison would crave the execution ability that Hurd demonstrated at HP, and keeping Safra Katz as the gatekeeper, just in case, at least while Hurd proved he would not screw up again, and returned part of his cost in results for the Oracle.
Forced equilibrium in any case between these two heavy weights (and heavy egos) that we do not really believe will last for ever and will potentially end up in a burst similar to the breaking of Stalin and the Western Powers at the dawn of the Cold War.
Both of them, Ellison and Hurd, will have to pay a price for it should it happen… Being the 6th richest man in the world would allow Ellison to afford it. In the case of Hurd, lets hope this time he goes for more mature toys, and does not pay the Fisher-Price.