- On Monday, Oracle announced that Vishal Sikka joined its board.
- Buried in the SEC forms announcing the appointment was a tidbit about a three-month consulting contract, where Oracle paid Sikka $2,000 an hour for up to 50 hours worth of consulting work.
- Sikka has a long and storied history in the tech world and was once the star of Oracle’s eternal arch-rival SAP.
- Today he’s CEO of a startup launched earlier this year with $50 million in seed funding from undisclosed sources and a who’s who from Silicon Valley to serve as advisors.
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On Monday, Oracle announced that Vishal Sikka joined its board, in what has to be a cat-eats-the canary moment for Oracle CEO Safra Catz.
Sikka is known as an expertise in databases and AI with a long and storied career in the tech industry.
Today, he’s perhaps best known for his tumultuous three years as CEO of Indian outsourcer Infosys. He was first hired in 2014 to transform the Indian tech powerhouse, but a power struggle with founder and former CEO Narayana Murthy — a board member and major shareholder — dogged his tenure there.
Sikka grew so frustrated by what he perceived as unfair personal attacks by Murthy that when he resigned in 2017, he published his resignation letter. This, in turn, caused the company’s board to also publish an unusual letter which defended Sikka and shook a finger at Murthy.
Before that, though, Sikka served as CTO of SAP, known as the genius technologist behind Hana, the company’s all-important database product. Hana is an in-memory database that was supposed to help SAP best its arch-rival Oracle on its own turf, the database. Many of SAP’s customers use Oracle’s database and Hana was to be their alternative.
Hana has become a major product and platform for SAP and Sikka’s star was bright when he shocked the world in 2014 by leaving the company to take the role at Infosys.
Sources told Business Insider at the time that Sikka had hoped to be promoted into a co-CEO role or other prominent position but instead Bill McDermott took over as sole CEO. (McDermott left SAP earlier this year, too, and is now CEO of a smaller company, ServiceNow.)
A new startup
Sikka founded his own AI startup, Vianai Systems, earlier this year, with a $50 million seed round from undisclosed sources.
Vianai is being advised by a who’s who of Silicon Valley including self-driving car guru Sebastian Thrun; Divesh Makan, the founder of ICONIQ Capital, a venture firm known for managing the money of many Silicon Valley billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg; and Henning Kagermann, the former chairman and CEO of SAP.
Vianai was launched at Oracle’s big tech conference in September, but if Oracle has any interest in the company beyond that, it has not said so.
A $2,000/hour consulting contract
However, in the paperwork announcing Sikka’s appointment to its board, Oracle did disclose that it signed a three-month contract with Sikka’s consulting company, Hang Ten, that pays $2,000/hour. Oracle says the contract will involve between 20 – 50 hours of consulting services and sales support per month, which works out to $40,000 – $100,000 a month. That’s on top of the pay and stock Sikka will receive as an Oracle board member.
While Sikka has been Oracle’s friend during the years since leaving SAP, having him on the board with fiduciary responsibilities to Oracle has got to feel pretty good to Catz and Ellison.
Catz admitted in a rare 2015 press conference that SAP’s position as the No. 1 in enterprise apps, with Oracle at No. 2, still fires up her competitive spirit. “Silver medal is the first loser,” she said then.
Today, the battle is on for cloud dominance and Oracle has its dukes up with Amazon Web Services and is less focused on SAP. McDermott took SAP out of that fight, opting to partner with the major cloud players (including Microsoft and Amazon, but not Oracle) rather than build its own cloud.
Oracle’s push into AI
Sikka’s expertise with AI will help Oracle build more AI into its cloud, Ellison said in the press release announcing the appointment.
And who knows? Maybe Sikka will find his way into a co-CEO role with Catz, taking over for the late Mark Hurd. There’s something full-circle about that thought.
In any case, Oracle has been steadily refreshing its board. It added Rona Fairhead last summer and it added Charles “Wick” Moorman and William Parrett last year.
As we previously reported, Oracle’s board is currently involved in an unusual shareholder derivative lawsuit over Oracle’s $9 billion cash purchase of NetSuite, a company Ellison controlled, where its own board committee, that included Moorman and Parrett, gave its blessing for the suit to proceed against all the board members who were on the board at the time of that transaction.
Should that suit prevail, Ellison may be on the hook for giving back to Oracle some of the $4 billion cash he pocketed in the deal. An Oracle spokesperson has said the suit is without merit.
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