Karen White, CEO of RMS, said one of the best decisions in her career was to join Oracle, which took her career on a different trajectory.
At the time, in 1993, she had a very secure position as CEO with another firm, and it felt like a risky move because Oracle had hit a rough patch, including the loss of some $60 million the previous year. “It didn’t seem like an obvious choice,” she said.
White actually had met Oracle CEO Larry Ellison on a plane, “where we argued about technology the whole time. When I got off the plane, he said, ‘You should come work for me.”
Although she declined, Ellison kept calling and pursuing, and his team kept calling and pursuing. “They were very impressive, and he was very impressive, and the hand they were playing was intriguing. The timing—pre-Netscape, pre-Internet explosion, was also interesting.” (Netscape was the original browser.)
“I kept talking to him, but I wasn’t going to take the risk.”
Then someone gave her some really good advice, saying: “You have to assess the risk of staying in the current seat that you’re in as ruthlessly as you’re assessing the risk of changing. And once you do that, I’ll accept your decision. But until you do that, you’re kind of an idiot.”
She chuckled when she said she followed the advice. “And that was really the best career decision I made, because it was at the cusp of what I saw coming [in the technology industry].” At the time, there were only 50 web servers in the world, no Internet-based businesses had emerged yet, there were no smartphones, and she expected big changes, as did Ellison, who had the database technology platform that could underpin those changes.
“Four months later, I took the gig. Taking that gig and jumping on that very uncertain ride was a very good move…It turned out that that was the most transformative change in the technology industry. If you look back at the shift to Internet computing and all the trillions of dollars of market that has evolved from that shift, that gave me a great seat on that ride.”
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