A breath of fresh air: How Tim Ebbeck plans to 'disrupt' Oracle

Just over 18 months ago, Oracle Australia appointed Tim Ebbeck to the top job to help the company continue along its shift into the cloud business.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Tim Ebbeck admitted that while he is an accountant by trade, his skills are ubiquitous, which is why it's possible for him to take up top roles, including his current position as Oracle Australia and New Zealand's managing director.

"I think it lets you really move across industry, and even in the technology game I find it useful that at the end of the day, no one wakes up in the morning and thinks about, 'I want to buy technology'; they're usually after business outcomes, because generally, it's articulated into the common language: Money. If you can talk in that language, then you're doing OK," he said.

Ebbeck was appointed to the role just over 18 months ago. He admitted that he was brought in to "disrupt" the 38-year-old company, which has lately been attempting to hurl itself into the cloud business while it continues to witness its on-premises business shrinking.
Tim Ebbeck, Oracle Australia and New Zealand CEO
(Image: Supplied)

The last time Ebbeck was the head honcho of a large company was back in January 2012, when he was the Australia and New Zealand CEO of SAP, a company where he spent eight years working. During his time as CEO, SAP was facing challenges of its own, announcing that it was going to lay off 3,000 people to save between €300 million and €350 million. Ebbeck recalled that it was around the same time the global financial crisis hit, the biggest challenge for him at the time.

"When I took over, nine months in the GFC hit, and it was interesting because it scared the hell out of everyone in the world. But out here, we were building great strife and that was good, but with multinationals -- especially if they're US or European based -- they were scared stupid, so they just cut back on everything; it didn't matter whether your market was going well," he said.

"What we had to do was manage through when rest of world was in a bit of strife, the parent company was very concerned and very controlling in doing things. But at the time, we had massive opportunity and I think that made us focus even harder. We couldn't address everything, so we had to address the really big things, and we did that really well."

Despite the economic pressures, Ebbeck said SAP's local business doubled between 2008 and 2011. He attributed that partly to the help of Geraldine McBride, a mentor who he speaks fondly of, and who at the time of his tenure as SAP ANZ CEO was SAP Asia president and CEO.

When asked whether Ebbeck would apply his experience of transforming and growing SAP to the current changes Oracle is undertaking, he said, "Oracle is a different beast; I think SAP is only one part of Oracle".

Since Oracle first joined the public cloud party in 2012, the company has been pushing its way into the market with solutions for platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service, and most recently data as a service. To support the company's push into the cloud market, Oracle committed to recruiting 1,000 cloud sales staff in APAC in March, including up to 150 in Australia and New Zealand.

From a local operations point of view, Ebbeck said his role will be to steer focus on putting customers first and provide them with solutions that meet their needs.

"Oracle is a company that has innovated for 38 years. It has an unbelievably broad product offering that is respected by the market. But I'm not sure it has always been all that easy to do business with," he said.

"My observation when I first came into the company was that we were very focused on our products, and not as focused as we should have been on getting the outcome for our customer."

To drive this, Ebbeck said he plans to put Australia and New Zealand up for every pilot that the parent company plans to test.

"The ability to differentiate at a local level is a lot less than it used to be. I'm less in a view of 'try and think we're different', so what I do is I believe we've got to reach out actively. One of the techniques I'm using is I want to pilot everything; I want to be the first with piloting whatever the company wants to do," he said.

"We've already had a few where we've started off first, and what you find is that you get into learning fast and adapting quickly. You've got to think like a venture capitalist with a really big mother ship," he said.

He said this attitude and approach that he is trying to bring into Oracle should be adopted by other businesses in Australia, claiming that the country suffers from tall poppy syndrome.

"We haven't developed a sufficient culture of trying a lot, failing early. We're only just starting to pick it up, and it applies in Oracle, too. We weren't completely compliant with the global model, but now we are, and that gives us the chance to innovate around the edge."

Ebbeck said his motivation behind this way of thinking comes mostly from the days when he was setting up a venture capital fund with Compaq, a company he had worked for in the past, which he said gave him "huge insight" into running a business.

"What I learned about the business was -- and it sounds like common sense -- a great idea with average people was going to fail, but an average idea with great people has a real chance of success. It doesn't matter if it's an early stage investment or a large company; you have to have great people on board.

"The thing I learned about myself then is I ended up not enjoying that business much. I must have read 500 business plans, you take a lot of meetings with bright entrepreneurs, and most of the time you say no because you don't invest in them. I found that frustrating, because you want to say yes. So I think I'm better off being inside an organisation operating, rather than sitting on boards and pining on things."

As part of his management style, Ebbeck admitted to having "10 rules of transformation leaderships".

"Humility is really important. We all put on a face, but we all go home at night and we have far more important things than work. The whole concept of work-life balance is crap; it's about life balance, and if work is an important part of it then you put the time in there, but if all you do is focus on work, then jeez, you're boring," he said.

When it comes to how Ebbeck personally keeps a balanced life, he said he enjoys following cricket closely, being a father of two kids, 28 and 24, and being a husband for the last 30-plus years.

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