Obituary: Oracle VP Shawn Price showed drive in every sense of the word

The Ottawa-born exec built a series of companies before guiding Oracle’s transformation into a cloud-services company. As with everything, he did it at full throttle

 
Shawn Price
Shawn Price aboard one of the two-time America’s Cup–winning Oracle Team USA catamarans. (Oracle)

Shawn Price was never afraid of a challenge. A lifelong adrenaline junkie, the Ottawa-born software pioneer fell in love with the fastest and most dangerous sports there are: professional race car and motorcycle driving. He brought that same fearlessness to his career in business, transforming several software companies into growth champions before tackling his biggest challenge yet—to make Oracle the largest cloud-computing player in the world.

Whether on the race track or in the boardroom, Price could usually blow past the competition, no problem. This challenge would have a sadly different ending. The senior vice president of Oracle’s Cloud solutions died on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, of cancer. He was 53.

In an internal statement to staff, Oracle CEO Mark Hurd wrote about Price’s impact on the company’s strategic shift towards the cloud: “Shawn became an instant catalyst and introduced ideas and practices to help us compete more effectively and win in cloud. He was an exceptional, passionate individual who lived life to the fullest with his many adventures, and he helped our company achieve great cloud success.”

Born in Ottawa in 1963, Shawn Price enjoyed a globe-trotting childhood. As the son of Bill Price, a Canadian foreign diplomat, Shawn came along on his father’s far-flung postings throughout Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Caribbean. That early exposure to all the world had to offer primed Shawn for a career that would match his unrelenting energy and competitive drive. He graduated with a political science degree from the University of Western Ontario, then worked as a regional manager at the Toronto software company Corel Corp. before moving to Silicon Valley with his wife, Sarah. There, he headed several software companies including SAP, Zuora, and Savvion before joining Larry Ellison’s tech giant in October 2014.

In his short two years at Oracle, he grew the company’s cloud software and cloud platform businesses to revenues of $798 million—77% over the previous year, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

“He saw the whole industry shifting in a dramatic way to the cloud and it was clear to him that this was the wave of the future,” says Sam Jadallah, long-time friend and CEO of consumer product startup Tyto Life in Burlingame, California.

Oracle’s rapid growth in cloud computing parallels the winning mentality Price exuded in his racing. Price’s passion for motorsports began when his father bought him a dirt bike during their time in Nairobi, Kenya. Price posted a number of impressive wins on the track, winning Mexico’s Baja 1000 in 2002 and the Rolex 24 at Daytona Beach, Fla. in 2005. He was the top-ranked rider from the Americas in one outing of the Paris-Dakar Rally, which saw him motorbiking 7,000 miles through the North African desert in 19 days.

Price eventually gave up racing cars after a crash in Mexico left him with a broken femur. But he didn’t give up on the adrenaline rush. He merely traded his hobby for something with a little less wear-and-tear on his legs: yacht racing.

Rob Burgess, an old Canadian friend and board member at Adobe Systems, remembers having Price and his family over during one Canadian Thanksgiving—a tradition they upheld despite living in California. “We were playing road hockey and Shawn was still recovering from his injury but he joined anyway and played on one leg,” says Burgess. “He was still really good—probably better than the rest of us.”

Price’s athleticism and no-quit attitude has manifested in his two daughters: Nicky, 19, a lacrosse player for the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Maddy, 21, a track and field star who came close to representing Team Canada at the Rio Olympics 400-metre event.

Despite having the schedule of a devoted family man, world-travelling racer, and executive leader, Price seemed to somehow defy time and find room to help others. Mark Organ, chief executive of Toronto-based marketing startup Influitive, remembers being shocked when Price, president of a fast-growing software company at the time, offered to help him tweak his business model. “He was a really senior person but he spent a lot of time with me fixing my pricing model and helping me scale my business,” says Organ. “I don’t know where he found the time. He had a real need to give back and see the Canadian startup ecosystem really grow.”

Even as Price climbed the corporate ladder, he never stopped rooting for his fellow entrepreneurs up north. He was a charter member of C100, a non-profit made up of Canadian expats trying to transfer some of that Silicon magic to their home country. “Despite his insane demands, he never lost track of his value of mentoring other people,” says C100 co-chair Angela Strange. “He was a great beacon.”

Anthony Lee, another board member at C100, says Price was the embodiment of a “crazy Canuck.” “He had a combination of outward American bravado but a deep inherent Canadian decency to him,” he says. Lee recalls a “very Shawn moment” one night after a big event had wrapped up. Instead of heading to a watering hole afterwards, Price took a group of people out sailing around the San Francisco Bay, even though it was past midnight. “He was always up for going one step further than anyone can imagine,” says Lee.

Price moved easily from delivering keynote speeches to working a crowded room to devoting his attention to one person. He frequently dazzled friends and colleagues with the depth of his knowledge, whether it was about server farm infrastructure, the roar of an engine on the track or the play of wind on the sail. Another undeniable legacy? His fashion sense. Price blazed a trail among the khaki-and-fleece-clad Valley tech titans and investor types with his “high-low” style—your finest Oxford shirt and jacket and sleekest shoes, finished off with some good old-fashioned blue jeans. At a private visitation scheduled on Friday, everyone was encouraged to adopt Price’s trademark look.

Shawn Price is survived by his wife of 25 years, Sarah, and his daughters, Maddy and Nicky.

Says Burgess: “He was a great Canadian success story ended too soon. He made a big dent in the world.”

Memorial donations may be made in honour of Shawn Price to the Cancer Center of Melanoma Research at CPMC Sutter Health Foundation: www.cpmc.org/giving.

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