Oracle CIO Tom Fisher is interviewed at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Jenny Callison)
Update: this version contains additional comments from Tom Fisher as well as mention that Hugh Forrest, of South by Southwest Interactive Festival, will be the keynote speaker at a conference Sept. 4.
Even in the high-tech industry, the most important factor in a company’s success is people. That’s the firm belief of Tom Fisher, senior vice president and CIO of the cloud for Oracle.
Fisher, a North Carolina native and University of North Carolina at Charlotte alumnus, spoke Thursday at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In his answers to several questions, Fisher emphasized the importance to organizations of recognizing and developing talent as well as the value of mentorship.
His informal remarks took the form of a question-and-answer session, with moderator RB Preville, co-owner of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, posing most of the questions. He often referred to his previous career experience, working with such tech giants as IBM, Gateway Computer, eBay and QualComm.
Here are some highlights of Fisher’s remarks:
On his recipe for success: “It comes down to hiring the best people. The economy is still built around people. Larry Ellison [Oracle CEO] surrounds himself with the right people, in terms of talent, at the right time.”
About whether he prefers to hire managers or leaders:
“It depends on the position. I like leaders, although they can be difficult – a bull in a china shop. I struggle with managers. I oversee an organization of 2,400 people. Part of my job is to develop managers into leaders.
"Do I ever hire someone who challenges me? Any day of the week, but I expect them to be respectful of me. I do have mavericks, great mavericks. But if they are not respectful, I will fire them.”
On the importance of mentorship: "My first mentor pushed me to try new things and told me I had a technical aptitude. Mentorship is a way to give back to someone who is having the same struggles [as you may have had]. Business challenges don’t change. The environment and technology may change, but basics don’t."
On his guiding principle: “If I can put my head on the pillow and go to sleep knowing I made the right decision. Three weeks ago I had to stand in front of company executives at Oracle to apologize for a bad decision.”
On how to pitch an idea or company to him: “It’s all through relationships, networking. I don’t take cold calls.”
On why big companies, like Oracle, buy small companies: “Oracle has an organized strategy for acquisitions: [decision to purchase] depends on what [the potential acquisition] is in, what it wants to get into. We would look at who is trying to bust into the market and with the highest quality product. We would find that company and socialize with them; make ourselves attractive, and possibly partner with the company.
“We will sometimes buy to get market share or to migrate our products to their platform. Oracle bought 70 companies last year. We knew that they were creating products to supercede [what they already had], and what they thought customers would migrate to. Lately we’ve purchased companies for their skill sets.”
When talking about how to make the most of mergers (set agreed-upon objectives, milestones and work to blend the two organizations well), Fisher pointed out that many entrepreneurs may not stay in the blended company after their non-compete agreement expires, so it's best to make the most of their contributions before that happens.
"We've gotten much better at trying to incent people to stick around, but there are those who will try to break free," he said. "You've got to understand who they are. Can you imagine Mark Zuckerberg working for somebody else?"
As he welcomed his audience to Thursday's program, CIE executive director Jim Roberts announced that the center will host a first-anniversary conference
Sept. 4 that will feature Hugh Forrest, head of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival.