Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has run the Oracle playbook for the last two years. Here's how it's going
- Oracle veteran and Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has run the unit for two years.
- The unit’s revenue is growing, but it still lags behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.
- Kurian has used Oracle strategies, like expanding sales, building partnerships, and M&A.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s been just about two years since Thomas Kurian took the reins as CEO of Google Cloud after a 22-year stint at Oracle.
When he walked through the firm’s door in January 2019, he had a big challenge ahead of him: His predecessor Diane Greene had only held the position for three years, and he inherited a distant third-place position in the US cloud wars, behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft (and fourth worldwide, after China’s Alibaba Cloud), and ambitious growth goals.
Upon taking the position, Kurian quickly made it clear that he planned to borrow from Oracle’s playbook, laying out plans to sell to specific industries like finance and telecom, scale Google’s sales organization, make strategic acquisitions, and more.
So, how’s he doing, two years in?
The hard numbers tell a mixed story.
He doubled the Cloud unit’s revenue from $1.7 billion the quarter he took over to $3.4 billion in its most recent earnings report. But Google made only modest market share gains: Gartner pegged its share at 4% in 2018 and that’s only climbed to 5.3%, per the latest report in Gartner published last August. At one point, Google Cloud had the ambitious goal of becoming the number two cloud within a “five-year window,” a source told Insider in 2019, and it’s still quite far from Microsoft’s 17.9%
Kurian’s still seems bullish that it could happen: “We don’t think the way that cloud and the market looks like three years out is going to be the way it does today,” he said during a keynote last February.
To get a clearer sense of Kurian’s performance in his first two years, Insider asked analysts, experts, and current and former employees to weigh in on how his Oracle game-plan has served him. These insiders highlighted many successes — Karl Keirstead, the managing director at Deutsche Bank, said Kurian’s arrival “changed everything” — but some culture clashes, too.
Here’s how Kurian has shaped Google Cloud during his tenure so far:
What Kurian brought to Google from Oracle
Kurian ended his more than two decade stint at Oracle leading product development. He directly reported to — and frequently challenged — cofounder and executive chairman Larry Ellison.
His fellow Oracle employees knew Kurian as both soft-spoken and tough and it was even rumored at one point that he would eventually become Oracle’s CEO. His achievements included building its suite of cloud services and leading a whopping 60 acquisitions, including the firm’s $9 billion NetSuite purchase.
But, ultimately, Kurian and other Oracle executives did not hit certain numeric goals related to its cloud computing business, like hitting $20 billion in total cloud revenues in a fiscal year, and he took a leave of absence in 2018. When former CEO Greene stepped down, Google Cloud tapped Kurian.
Kurian told the Wall Street Journal in early 2019 that he would borrow some of Oracle’s strategies to help Google Cloud catch up to AWS and Microsoft, including adding sales employees, training them to work with large enterprise customers, and honing in on specific industries.
He wasted no time. In 2019, Google announced plans for its cloud business to triple its salesforce in the next few years.
“That’s where Thomas Kurian has direct experience and credibility,” Eric Brewer, the vice president of infrastructure at Google, previously told Insider. “I think we’ve known for a while we need a bigger sales team and more customer support.”
Google Cloud built cloud products specific to certain sectors, such as retail. It also restructured its sales process to become more like those of enterprises like Oracle and SAP. He changed sales compensation to become more bonus-driven and created senior sales roles to lead sales teams that handle so-called “Named Accounts,” meaning the largest customers in the world. Google Cloud also grew its support functions, including launching a “Premium Support” model last year. In the past few months, Google Cloud announced big customer wins like Nokia and Deutsche Bank.
In some ways, Kurian has also run his own playbook in ways he couldn’t have at Oracle. Google Cloud’s turn to multi-cloud — through Anthos, which allows customers to use Google Cloud services in tandem with rival platforms from AWS and Microsoft — is an approach that he previously butt heads with Ellison over.
“Thomas brings a very strong enterprise background,” an employee who asked to remain anonymous told Insider, adding that Kurian knows how to commercialize and sell products.
“That has been really well emphasized,” they said. “Really prioritizing on ‘What is the target for this? Where is going to be the maximum investment happening?’ There is the notion that [Kurian] is the best person to close deals.”
Kurian is looking to M&A to help Google Cloud grow
Kurian was known for M&A at Oracle, acquiring dozens of smaller companies which he turned into profitable business unit. He also led strategy-shifting acquisitions, like its $10.3 billion purchase of PeopleSoft in 2004, which helped Oracle become an even bigger player in the enterprise software market.
When Kurian took the reins at Google Cloud, analysts and industry insiders predicted that his reign would mark a new age of aggressive acquisitions to bolster its enterprise business. It seems like they may be right: Google Cloud has announced eight acquisitions since he took the helm.
“He’s an M&A specialist and I think he understands technology and next gen-cloud as well as anyone else there,” Dan Ives, managing director at Wedbush Securities, previously told Insider.
Kurian closed his largest Google Cloud acquisition last February when the firm bought the data analytics company Looker for $2.4 billion, which analysts said could give it a competitive edge against Microsoft, AWS, and Oracle (although it also piqued skepticism in a Congress antitrust report).
Besides Looker, Google Cloud has acquired small companies like data startup Alooma, cloud storage startup Elastifile, and low-code app AppSheet.
Though Kurian said at a keynote last February that the firm is “not dependent on acquisitions to grow” he left the door open to continued shopping, acknowledging that the firm would “make acquisitions appropriately when the time’s right.”
While Kurian’s acquisition track-record at Oracle was largely seen as successful for growing the firm’s business, the impact of his Google purchases isn’t apparent yet.”Time will tell if [Kurian] continues his old patterns here,” one former employee told Insider, who was skeptical about whether acquisitions like Looker and Elastifile would pay off.
Google Cloud is working more with partners
Kurian has also prioritized forging partnerships, including several with open source software companies and large firms like HCL, Splunk, and NetApp (which is run by his twin brother, George Kurian).
But more importantly, he has involved partners more in the sales process, with the goal of them in 100% of its customer engagements. In early 2020, he invited partners to an internal sales conference for the first time.
Before Kurian, partner go-to-market strategies were pretty much “nonexistent” at Google Cloud, Ratan Tipirneni, CEO Google cloud partner Tigera, told Insider.
Kurian has launched new resources for partners, too, like ways of measuring performance, internal industry-specific sales teams they can work with, and more certification programs. Google Cloud has also allowed partners to become more flexible in negotiating with its customers, such as allowing them to bundle together multiple Google products or apply cloud credits for other Google Cloud services, partners say.
“It’s rooted in a couple things,” Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a Google Cloud partner, told Insider. “One is the aggressive desire to win, just that Oracle-like hunger to win which hasn’t always existed in Google Cloud. What does it take to win? It takes a lot of commercial flexibility, legal language flexibility, execution speed, and bundles into things that aren’t like cookie cutters.”
The Oracle mentality has led to some culture clashes
Still, Kurian’s arrival has brought some culture clashes, too, as his Oracle-bred mentality collided with the ethos of “Googliness,” sources say.
Already, Google Cloud has undergone reorganizations that led to executives like former president Tariq Shaukat leaving their role. The unit has also gone on a hiring spree, poaching executives from companies like SAP, Oracle, AWS, and Microsoft.
Some sources previously said the hiring process was “biased” toward former Oracle employees, as several of Google Cloud’s new executives came from Kurian’s former company. Others say these changes are beneficial.
“Personally, I think Thomas has brought a fresh perspective,” a former employee said. “Despite a short time in the role, I think he’s already done more to get Google to catch up with the other cloud providers. He’s finding process inefficiencies and ironing them out.”
Another current employee echoed that sentiment, describing Kurian as “old school for the ecosystem,” while acknowledging that “he’s doing very well in terms of product evolution, acquisitions, and sales.”
While the transition from an engineering-focused company to an enterprise culture might make some employees unhappy, it’s one “that has to happen,” said Maribel Lopez, the founder and principal analyst of Lopez Research
“Kurian’s job isn’t to make friends — his job is to make sure they build the best enterprise cloud services,” Lopez previously Insider.
As a result of Kurian’s leadership, Google Cloud has experienced plenty of growth and is still growing rapidly. But its revenues are still dwarfed by those of AWS and Microsoft, as is its market share, and it has been trying to do some “myth busting” to do to gain credibility from large enterprises, Lopez said.
Only time will tell if Kurian’s changes lead to long-term growth.
Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected], Signal at 646.376.6106, Telegram at @rosaliechan, or Twitter DM at @rosaliechan17. (PR pitches by email only, please.)
Source: Read Full Article