For all his success in his rise through Oracle’s ranks, Abbasi had to learn to recover from external threats that were impossible to anticipate. Interviewed amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic, Abbasi looked back on how Ellison responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Nine-eleven was a jolt, a terror attack that none of us had ever imagined,” he said.
He recalled Ellison’s email to Oracle staff in which he gave people the option to take time off if they needed it. Even so, Abbasi recalled Ellison saying that the business of the company had to continue.
“And he reminded people at Oracle that the technology was being used by intelligence agencies, by defense agencies, by the armed forces,” said Abbasi.
After retiring from Oracle in 2003, Abbasi became CEO at Informatica, a Silicon Valley provider of enterprise data management software. His mission to put the company back on the path to growth got off to a strong start — and then it collided with the financial crisis and recession that followed.
“We had to deal with the demise of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, iconic banks that simply ceased to exist,” he said. “It was an era of financial uncertainty, the likes of which we'd never seen, at least not in our lifetimes. And the key lesson that I took away from it is when you're faced with an uncertainty like that, the planning cycles become very short and even the execution periods become very short.”
Abbasi’s leadership team made sales targets weekly — not monthly or quarterly.
“It wasn't so much micromanagement,” he said. “It was, how do you actually adapt to fast-changing circumstances?”
Overcoming Inertia and Complacency
Success has downsides, Abbasi cautioned. A product or service that thrived for years might be nearing its expiration date. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
“The hardest thing when you succeed with a strategy is to question and change the strategy,” he said.
Abbasi praised Oracle for having flexible leaders.
“In the early days, the leadership, particularly Larry Ellison, was prepared to say ‘now we need a different strategy,’ and he was able to rally the troops around that.”
Over the years, Abbasi figured out how to avoid complacency and keep his strategic vision fresh. It starts with learning from everyone: peers, supervisors, direct reports, clients — anybody whose insight has an impact.
More importantly, it’s about critically assessing business outcomes. Though he engineered a powerful rebound at Informatica, growing revenues and expanding profit margins year after year, he still noted the missed opportunities. “Even when Informatica was doing well, there was always something that I learned that could have been even better,” Abbasi said.
In a Category of Their Own
The eternal Silicon Valley drive to do something better gave Nutanix’s Pandey something in common with Abbasi: Both helped pioneer new technology categories — Oracle with relational databases and Nutanix with hyperconverged infrastructure, which lets IT teams manage computing, storage and networking from a single platform on commodity hardware.
“It is rare for a company to create a category,” Abbasi said. “It's also very rare for a company to exceed $1 billion in revenue.”
He saluted the people who helped Nutanix simplify IT infrastructure, which in turn moved the company into the billion-plus-revenue elite.
For Abbasi, success transcends ever-expanding profit and market share. It’s about bringing new innovations to the world and discovering amazing things along the way.
“As I keep reminding people, including myself, the journey is the reward.”