Commemorating a Life of Service

December 11, 2020
Winter 2020 - Mark Hurd

To spend a day with Mark Vincent Hurd, BBA ’79, was to be one step behind. To those who knew him, Hurd walked fast, talked fast and thought faster. 

As a CEO, Hurd led three public companies — NCR Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. — to new heights in times of tremendous change. As a tireless champion of tennis — a sport in which he lettered at Baylor University — Hurd was instrumental in supporting young players. As a Baylor Regent, Hurd helped shape the campus with steady counsel and generous donations to build new facilities that will serve generations of students. And as a mentor, he understood that the true measure of leadership is the elevation of others.

These traits were revealed during those brisk walks or rapid-fire breakdowns of a balance sheet when Hurd inevitably would turn, pause and, peering over his glasses, make sure you were still right there with him. In those moments, it became clear that, while Hurd generally was one step ahead, he wasn’t leaving you behind. He was pulling you forward.

Hurd died Oct. 18, 2019, at age 62.

In the days following Hurd’s death, the breadth and depth of remembrances from around the world reflected a business leader, a faithful friend and a motivational mentor. The tributes came from famous people, to be sure, but also from those starting to make a name for themselves. Hurd embodied Baylor’s core value of “intellectual activity that springs from disciplined habits of the heart and inspires action on behalf of the world.” 

Oracle founder Larry J. Ellison said, “Mark was my close and irreplaceable friend, and trusted colleague. All of us will miss Mark’s keen mind and rare ability to analyze, simplify and solve problems quickly. Some of us will miss his friendship and mentorship. I will miss his kindness and sense of humor.” 

Baylor Board of Regents Chair Jerry K. Clements, JD ’81, said, “Mark served tirelessly and selflessly on his alma mater’s Board. He genuinely loved and cared for Baylor and contributed his time, strategic leadership and treasure to help achieve Baylor’s vision for the future as the preeminent Christian research university.” 

Tennis legend Billie Jean King said, “In addition to his business achievements, he will be remembered for his passion and investment in collegiate and American tennis.” 

J. Cary Gray, BBA ’79, BA ’80, JD ’83, Hurd’s freshman roommate and fellow Regent, said, “He was brilliant, and it came out in everything he did.”

It was the eclectic nature of Hurd’s brilliance that defined him and set him apart. He could riff effortlessly about the nuances of the Brazilian economy or hilariously dissect the Las Vegas wedding scene from Love Stinks.

“His ability to put himself on the level of people he was dealing with was unlike anything I ever saw in my life,” Gray said.

From the moment he arose without an alarm clock at 4:45 a.m., Hurd was committed to shaping each day in a way that created value and was infused with values. In his public roles, it was value for the shareholders and employees who entrusted him with the monumental task of running global companies. Privately, it was the value of friendships nurtured over decades and dedication to his wife Paula and daughters Kelly and Kathryn. With all, he applied and practiced an unshakeable belief in hard work, faith, dedication and humility.

“Mark often spoke to Baylor students in our classrooms and more casual settings,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., said. “He always exhibited compassion for where they were in life and would make jokes, often at his own expense, to break the ice.”

Hurd himself joked that he had two kinds of outfits hanging in his closet: suits and sweats. Business casual meant a suit with no tie. But there were never any airs about Hurd, who could talk to a head of state with the same respect and attentiveness as he would ordering an iced tea (no sugar, lots of ice, large glass) from a fast-food cashier. As a technology executive, he embraced — and sold — the promise of the future. But as a voracious student of just about everything else, he understood and heeded the lessons of the past.

“I think what stood out probably most is that he was a real person,” Baylor Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mack B. Rhoades IV said. “You think about him, CEO of Oracle, maybe the best CEO in all of America, but he was genuine, and he was real, and you could have conversations with him about anything — about Baylor University, Baylor athletics, life, leadership, all sorts of different topics.’’

A New Year’s baby who rang in 1957, Hurd grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He was the only son of a U.S. Navy veteran who became a financier and a homemaker who was a former debutante with a love for animals. He attended the Browning School and was known for his skill on the junior high basketball court. Although he learned to play tennis during summers in New York, it wasn’t until his family moved to Miami that Hurd focused seriously on the sport as a high schooler. Tennis would grow into a lifelong passion.

“Mark was extremely reflective on the opportunity that the sport provided young people to learn life lessons,” Baylor tennis coach Brian Boland said. “He certainly wasn’t afraid to share with me that his success in business and life had so much to do with what he’d learned on the tennis court.’’

As a student at Miami’s Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School, Hurd played on public courts in parks around Miami Beach. It was there that his competitive spirit was sharpened and also where he experienced firsthand the powerful impact of someone he admired taking an interest in sharing what they know. That someone was tennis great Eddie Dibbs.

Of Dibbs, Hurd told an interviewer: “It is lost on some people what a thoughtful, generous guy he was. He would come home and say: ‘High schools, come out and play with me. I will kick your butt. You will never beat me.’ Here you are playing with a guy who is top 10 in the world out there playing with teenagers and high school kids.”

Hurd and Dibbs struck up a friendship later in life, one characterized by respectful ribbing. Dibbs recently said, “He was a pretty good tennis player, Mark. Pretty good.” 

That early lesson from Dibbs was reinforced years later at NCR, which Hurd joined as a junior salesman after college. During the course of 25 years, he rose through the ranks to become CEO. NCR’s culture, Hurd told an interviewer, encouraged mentoring and training.

“It was just an unspoken value in the company that if you could sit around and brag about all the great people you developed in the company who are now in senior positions, this was a merit badge,” Hurd said. “This was something you wore on your sleeve.”

It was an old-school approach and part of a pact between companies and workers.

“You would come out of college, and you would go to work at a company, and you would actually get trained by the company,” Hurd said. “You’d have trainers, enablers, people that would help you, teach you about how to sell, how to listen, how to communicate — all sorts of great skills that frankly I still use today.”

As CEO of Oracle, Hurd put that philosophy into practice by launching the company’s “Class Of” program. He pushed hard to create a company-wide program for college recruits that invested months of training to provide what “Class Of” graduate Emanuel Dominguez, BBA ’15, called “a great transition coming out of college — a crawl, walk, run approach.” Thousands of young people from colleges around the country have graduated “Class Of.” 

“Without the decisions Mark made, I don’t know if I would be sitting here today,” Dominguez said. “He pushed forward on behalf of young people, and his impact was not just on individuals but on the entire organization.” 

“Class Of” reflected one aspect of Hurd’s desire to build foundations upon which others could then build their futures. Last year, Mark and Paula gave a lead gift to launch the public phase of Give Light, a $1.1 billion comprehensive philanthropic campaign for the future of Baylor. Mark and Paula were campaign co-chairs, and their gift — one of the largest in Baylor history — will create a new gateway to the University: the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center.

In 2009, Baylor opened the Hurd Tennis Building in recognition of the family’s role in improving team facilities. In 2011, the University’s tennis complex was named the Hurd Tennis Center, which was ranked by Tennis Magazine as the No. 1 college tennis facility in the United States.

But Hurd gave more than money. He was a familiar face on campus as he walked the tennis center or participated in fireside chats with students, where the goal was not to regale students with his story but to help them write their own.

“I think he really saw himself as somebody who was going to try to give the students maybe an additional competitive edge going out into their career adventure,” Kenneth Buckley, BBA ’81, MBA ’10, assistant dean, Baylor’s Career Center said. “He was always down to earth. He didn’t talk above them and he didn’t intimidate them. He tried to put them at ease and to just talk and get them inspired and energized.’’

After 25 years at NCR, Mark and Paula (a former senior NCR executive) moved west from their home in Dayton, Ohio, with their two young daughters. In 2005, Mark was named CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the storied computer maker that had lagged competitors in the rapidly changing technology market. The industry was shocked that the CEO of a Midwest company known for making cash registers got the job, but Hurd impressed the search committee and board with his insights and rigor. He shepherded 22 consecutive quarters of growth at HP.  

“He was truly a great in this industry,” Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle Corp., said. “He could lead, inspire and execute like no one else. We are all better for having gotten to know Mark.”

With a shared love of tennis, Hurd and Ellison significantly expanded Oracle’s role and influence in American tennis. Ellison had acquired Indian Wells Tennis Garden and renovated it into one of the world’s great tennis venues — a desert haven that annually hosts the BNP Paribas Open. Hurd enlisted Oracle to support tennis at all levels. Oracle was a lead sponsor of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and host of several premier college tournaments each year, including one on the final weekend of the BNP Paribas Open. Under Hurd’s guidance, the company created the Oracle Challenger Series and the Oracle Pro Series, a string of American tournaments designed to help young professionals gain experience, ranking points and prize money without having to travel overseas. 

In fall 1975, a long-haired Hurd stood out on the Baylor campus and probably didn’t look like someone who would one day make the cover of Fortune magazine. He certainly would not have been viewed as an odds-on favorite to one day serve as vice chair of the University’s Board of Regents. He was an 18-year-old tennis player from Miami who chose Baylor for a couple of reasons: The University offered him a scholarship to play tennis and, the year before, the football team won the Southwest Conference championship. Hurd wanted to be among winners. Every year, his hair got shorter and his reputation grew. People gravitated to him. By his senior year, he was elected president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Baylor, friends say, made Hurd feel at home. He absorbed the lessons and culture of the University in the classroom and on the courts. He became the No. 1 player on the varsity team and, as he would tell people over the years, “lost to many good players.” Those losses, Hurd said, taught him more than the victories. 

After college, Hurd tried his hand at professional tennis but realized quickly that — for him at least — the lessons of the sport would be more remunerative. As a leader, Hurd was known more for listening than speaking. And when he spoke, it was usually worth listening to, as his fellow Regents quickly came to appreciate. He began his service on the Board of Regents in 2014 and was elected vice chair in 2017. Previously, he had been recognized for his contributions to the University and its tennis program with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2008 and a Baylor Legacy Award in 2012 for his philanthropic and personal involvement with the University. 

On a Board of Regents with no shortage of intelligent people and leaders in their fields, Hurd stood out.

“Even if we didn’t agree, he could cut to the chase faster and more effectively than virtually anyone,” Gray said.

Many people remarked about the depth of Hurd’s love for Baylor. He would meet with teams whenever he had the chance. He traveled to games all over the country — not just tennis but to any game a Baylor team was playing.

“He never lost his sense of what Baylor did for him,” Clements said.

Livingstone said, “Mark believed in investing in Baylor, a place he said was fundamental in preparing him for success in his profession and his life. His legacy will have an impact on our campus for generations to come.”

Even when the traditions and beliefs of a Baptist university in the Bible Belt were out of synch with the prevailing politics of Silicon Valley, Hurd publicly embraced the school and his relationship to it. For students like Saxton Randle-Sims, BBA ’16, Hurd’s example showed him a path toward a technology career that otherwise would not have been possible.

“He inspired me because he showed a different avenue for people who wanted to go into tech,” Randle-Sims, who works for Oracle Consulting, said. “He really loved Baylor students. He kept his promise to help others.”