how a young salesperson with no experience landed a job at Oracle

From 1986-1989 I sold big mainframe systems for Unisys. The kind that can fill a room and are cooled with special chilled water systems. Unisys (United information systems) was the company formed by the merger of Sperry Corporation and Burroughs Corporation. We were the number two mainframe company behind IBM.

I did well at Unisys, making my number every year and going to President's Club, but it seemed to me that I worked significantly harder than my buddies at IBM. After all, "nobody ever got fired for going with IBM" was the saying at the time.

One day it dawned on me that my friends who sold the software running on the mainframes I sold drove very nice cars and lived in very nice houses. They made a lot more money than I did. I decided to get a job selling software. Not just any software. I wanted to sell for the market leader. Number one in the category.

I decided to get a job at Oracle.

I called one of the top recruiters in Houston. I explained that I wanted to move from selling hardware to selling software. Not just any software. I wanted a job selling for Oracle. The response I received was remarkable. The conversation went like this:

"I've made the decision to leave Unisys. I want to sell software."

"That's great! Thank you for calling me. How can I help?

"Please get me an interview at Oracle. I have decided I'm going to work at Oracle."

"Gary, you will never get a job at Oracle."

"Really, why not?"

"Because you have never sold relational databases. They will never hire you."

"I'd never sold mainframes before Unisys and I was pretty good at it. I'd never sold computers before my first job selling computers and I did very well. Please get me an interview at Oracle."

"I can't get you an interview at Oracle. I can get you an interview at Sybase."

"I don't want to sell Sybase. They are number two. I want to sell the market leader. I want to work at Oracle. If you don't want to get me an interview, I will get one on my own."

"I'm sorry, I can't help you."

"Then I will get my own interview at Oracle."

My very first branch manager at Unisys had recently left to take a sales rep role at Oracle. I called her and asked her if she would introduce me to the Regional Manager in Houston. I was ecstatic to learn that there was an immediate opening available in Houston and she would be more than happy to make the introduction. Less than 48 hours later, I had an interview at Oracle.

When I met with Leland Putterman, the hiring manager, it was as if we had known each other for many years. We shared many things in common, including our approach to selling. We also had something else in common: When Leland joined Oracle as a sales rep, he had never sold relational databases before. He worked at IBM selling hardware. We were the same. In fact, he said he wanted to hire me because I reminded him of himself when he joined Oracle.

My next interview at Oracle was one of the toughest interviews I have ever had with perhaps the nicest man I have ever known. I met with Paul Hoffman who was the manager responsible for Dallas and Houston. He asked me piercing questions designed to rattle me and make me defend why I should be hired. I will never forget how he ended the interview: "Gary, I'm not convinced you have the background to be successful at Oracle. I'll have to think about it and let you know."

I gathered my things, stood up, thanked Paul for the meeting, shook his hand and turned for the door. I turned around, put my things back on the table and said: "Paul, I know I have never sold relational databases before. I have never worked for a software company before. But I know this. I know how to sell. And I want this job more than any other person you will meet. I will do whatever it takes to be successful here. You may be able to hire someone with more experience, but they will not be the best person. That person is me. If you hire anyone else other than me, you have not hired the best person for this job." Having said all that I felt I could say, I thanked Paul again for the opportunity and left.

I remember telling a friend that evening that I while I had done all I could to convince Paul, I was not confident I would go to the next step. About 10:00 that same night, my phone rang. It was Paul.

"Gary, this is Paul Hoffman. Can you fly to Dallas tomorrow morning and meet with my boss? I want to hire you. You are the right person for this job." I went to Dallas the next day. Two days later, I flew to Oracle headquarters near San Francisco for my final interview. When I landed back in Houston the following day, I had an offer waiting. I loved that about Oracle. No time wasted. I met Paul on Monday. I met his boss Tuesday. I flew to California Thursday. When I landed Friday afternoon back in Houston, I had an offer.

In less than two weeks time, the young salesperson with no experience landed the very job he was told he could never get. I spent nearly nine years at Oracle selling and managing.

I know some CEO's who believe start-ups are not the place to hire people into jobs they have never done. Of course, you can't afford to have every person in your company be brand new to the role. However, I believe this mindset creates an opportunity to miss great talent and the innovation which comes with fresh perspective. Ironically, if a board of directors never hired a first time CEO, we would have far fewer CEOs, wouldn't we?

George Roberts, who was one of my managers at Oracle, a mentor, and is still a great friend taught me that a person should know 80% of what is necessary to be successful in a new or larger role. The remaining 20% can be learned in the new job. I think he is absolutely right.

Remember the recruiter who told me I could never get a job at Oracle? I talked to her one more time. After I became a hiring manager and needed top candidates, I reminded her of what she told me. I did not engage her services.


Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge
30th president of US (1872 - 1933)


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