IN image ellison
Out but not down: Oracle’s Larry Ellison said Sept. 18 that he has stepped down as CEO to become the company’s Chief Technology Officer. The move comes at a time when Oracle is facing stiff competition from vendors of cloud-based software. Reuters

Larry Ellison, who built Oracle into one of the most powerful and influential players in Silicon Valley, stunned the tech world Thursday by announcing he is stepping down as CEO to play a larger role in the company’s product development efforts. Ellison’s new title is Chief Technology Officer.

The move is reminiscent of a similar move by PC industry pioneer Bill Gates, who removed himself as Microsoft’s CEO in 2000 to become the company’s Chief Software Architect.

Gates’ move was sparked by his recognition that Microsoft was at a turning point. The company was still focused primarily on personal computers and servers at a time when computing was moving to the Internet.

Ellison’s departure for the lab comes at an equally crucial time for Oracle. The company has struggled to port business applications like PeopleSoft and Siebel to the cloud in the face of competition from more nimble, born-on-the-Web vendors like Salesforce, Inc. and Workday.

Virtually all of Oracle’s software growth for its fiscal 2015 first quarter, announced Thursday, was driven by cloud products -- revenue from which increased 32 percent to a relatively small $337 million. Total software growth was just 6.6 percent, to $6.6 billion.

“Larry has made it very clear that he wants to keep working full time and focus his energy on product engineering, technology development and strategy,” said Michael Boskin, presiding director of Oracle’s board, in a statement.

Replacing the yacht-loving Ellison, who recently turned 70, in Oracle’s corner office are Mark Hurd and Safra Catz. Hurd and Catz were previously the company’s co-presidents.

“Safra and Mark will now report to the Oracle Board rather than me,” Ellison said in a statement. “The three of us have been working well together for the last several years, and we plan to continue working together for the foreseeable future. Keeping this management team in place has always been a top priority of mine.”

For the fiscal first quarter, Oracle’s total revenues were up 3 percent year-over-year, to $8.6 billion. Operating income (non-GAAP) increased 2 percent, to $3.8 billion, while earnings per share came in at 62 cents, up 4 percent.

Oracle’s board declared a quarterly cash dividend of 12 cents per share.