Well. Is he or isn’t he?
Is Jeff Henley, Oracle’s CFO for the past decade and last year’s winner of CFO magazine’s CFO Excellence Award for Managing External Stakeholders on the verge of leaving the database software company?
“It’s completely untrue,” an Oracle spokeswoman told CFO.com. The spokeswoman queried Henley himself in response to rumors that had been floating through the tech industry last week, and she reported that he replied, “I have absolutely no plans to leave Oracle.”
Despite the denials, the Silicon Valley rumor mill has apparently been working overtime.
The Associated Press reported last Wednesday that Henley had sold his home in Atherton, the same ritzy Bay Area zip code that is also home to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.
“That’s a rumor that floats around periodically,” says Marc Klee, portfolio manager for the John Hancock Technology Fund, who at this point isn’t lending any credence to it. Nonetheless, Klee notes, “At some point he will leave.”
A similar story had cropped last fall, which alleged that not only was Henley leaving Oracle, but that Ellison had died.
Regardless of Henley’s plans, Oracle is negotiating its way through a difficult transition. The company, whose results are due to be reported after the market closes Monday, missed its earnings forecasts for the February quarter, when sales grew only 9 percent. Part of the blame lay with the company’s application business, where revenue fell far short of earlier Wall Street forecasts.
Bloomberg News reported on Friday that many Wall Street analysts expect the company’s software license revenue to fall short of forecasts for the May quarter due to price cutting from competitors.
Bill Rusher of the San Francisco excutive recruitment firm, Rusher, Loscavio & LoPresto, says Henley is not going to exit Oracle until the firm has worked its way through the current transition. This past week, Oracle cut the base price on its core database product by 50 percent, largely because of harsh customer response to a pricing policy that was introduced last year. It also released a major upgrade to its enterprise resource planning system a year ago. After those changes have had enough time to sink in, it may be time for Henley to move on, but not before.
“I don’t think he wants to be perceived as the kind of guy who leaves when times are tough,” Rusher says.
Two other executive recruiters who have long track records in CFO job searches say they’ve heard nothing to substantiate the Henley rumors, although it would not be surprising if the Oracle finance chief soon heads for the exit.
Both Walt Williams, who runs Clarity Partners in Wellesley, Mass., and Leon A. Farley, who heads his own San Francisco executive search firm, say that after 10 years, a CFO of Henley’s stature could be getting restless. But beyond that, there’s no strong reason to think he’s on the way out.
Even if Henley sticks around, Oracle has still been through a fair amount of upheaval in its executive ranks during the past year. Ray Lane, the chief operating officer, left a year ago, and is now with the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Gary Bloom, the executive vice president who was responsible for Oracle’s core database business, left to take over the CEO’s job at Mountain View, Calif.-based Veritas Software last November. If Henley departs, it will make Ellison’s job that much more difficult.
Rusher says that once Henley is prepared to leave, he may want another business that matches the supercharged environment he was familiar with at Oracle. Given that he works in Silicon Valley, he will have plenty of options.