(Bloomberg) -- Oracle Corp. shareholder support for Chairman Larry Ellison increased in the past year as the company’s cloud infrastructure business grew rapidly.
Fewer investors backed a proposal that the board be led by an independent director, often defined as someone that is not a current or former executive, than in any vote since 2018, according to company filings. The non-binding proposal during Oracle’s Nov. 15 meeting was effectively a referendum on Ellison’s leadership as board chairman, a role he has held since 2014.
The software giant’s bid to become a major provider of cloud infrastructure is finally being taken seriously this year. Oracle’s once-languishing business unit grew rapidly in 2023, partially boosted by demand for computing power needed for artificial intelligence, and hit $5 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ending in May.
“Larry’s been fighting this cloud battle for so long, and he’s finally getting some success,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Anurag Rana, adding that Ellison has taken other steps that would please investors, such as buying back large amounts of stock over the years.
Oracle shares gained 41% this year through Friday’s close and hit a record high in September. Siti Panigrahi, an analyst at Mizuho Securities, wrote around that time that the software giant “has successfully transitioned to become the fourth-largest hyperscaler” in the competitive cloud market led by Amazon.com Inc.’s Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Oracle didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In the most recent vote, 53% of shareholders, excluding current executives, opposed the proposal, rejecting the advice of Wall Street’s best-known advisory firms.
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. cited “ongoing concerns” about Oracle’s compensation practices and high amount of shares — over $30 billion worth — used as collateral by Ellison. Glass Lewis & Co said that while Oracle has already separated the chief executive officer and board chairman roles, expanding the policy would help ensure independent oversight. Ellison, a co-founder, is the company’s chief technology officer in addition to serving as chairman.
In its rebuttal, Oracle said that “with over 45 years of experience at Oracle, Mr. Ellison is uniquely positioned to lead the board in its oversight of our company’s business and strategic direction,” adding the board leadership is sufficiently independent because Ellison is not also CEO.
The company pointed out that investors have consistently struck down similar proposals which have been aired at most annual meetings since 2018. Ellison is the company’s largest shareholder with about 42% of the outstanding stock as of Sept. 18, according to a company filing. Assuming that he and other executives have consistently voted with the board’s recommendations, this is the first year that a majority of non-executive shareholders sided with the company, according to a filing Friday.
Investor support also climbed for Oracle’s executive compensation plans, which have been controversial in previous years. Excluding the votes of executive shareholders, 44% of investors approved the compensation plan, which is up from 30% last year and 16% in 2021.
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