SSON Podcast Series: Loren Mahon, Oracle
Ep.41: Loren Mahon, Oracle
In order for change management to work you’ve got to have leaders who are willing to be participant observers.
Seth Adler: From Oracle, Loren Mahon joins us. First some supporters to thank and thank you for listening.
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Seth Adler: The Vice President of Financial Systems for the CEO Office at Oracle, Loren Mahon, joins us. And shares that she's chartered with internal business transformation internally at Oracle. Particularly around things that impact financial systems and processes, which she points out for any enterprise-sized company is almost anything.
But particularly the internal cloud strategy looking at enterprise reporting strategy, data governance, M&A integration, et cetera, and how all that links back to what's being done from a systems process and shared services perspective.
Overall Loren and her team have four steps for business transformations. Simplify, standardize, centralize and automate. Welcome to SSON on B2B IQ, I'm your host Seth Adler. Download episodes on ssonetwork.com or through our app in iTunes, within the iTunes podcast app in Google Play or wherever you currently get your podcasts. Loren Mahon.
Loren Mahon: It's an Irish name. The Irish pronunciation if I were still in Ireland would Ma'hon.
Seth Adler: Ah ha.
Loren Mahon: But one of my ancestors was a chef in France for the royalty in France. And invented mayonnaise.
Seth Adler: Wait a second. 'Cause I just said to you it's almost mayonnaise effect.
Loren Mahon: Yes, exactly. So if you think about mayonnaise, you'll get my name right.
Seth Adler: Wait a sec. So who is the person that invented the mayonnaise to you? Who is ... What relation?
Loren Mahon: It's a long back distant relation, but it's from the same Irish clan. It's one of there original clans in Ireland.
Seth Adler: Look at that.
Loren Mahon: And very long time ago, was a chef in France.
Seth Adler: This begs the question are you a mayonnaise fan?
Loren Mahon: I actually am. I love mayonnaise.
Seth Adler: All right, so you, it seems like have a very big job here at Oracle, right? Internally faced-
Loren Mahon: Yes.
Seth Adler: ... with what?
Loren Mahon: With what? So I'm chartered with business transformation internally at Oracle. Particularly around things that impact our financial systems and processes, which for any enterprise-sized company is almost everything.
Seth Adler: Sure.
Loren Mahon: But really looking at things like what's our cloud strategy internally. How are we making that move ourselves? How are we leveraging that technology? And what is that doing to things like what we're doing around shared services?
Looking at our enterprise reporting strategy. How do we do data governance? And again how does that relate to ... When you drill all the way down, how does that relate to what are we doing at transaction processing levels and services centers that impacts that strategy?
M&A integration. What are we doing around M&A integration? How is that happening? And again how does that link back through to what we're doing from a systems perspective, a process perspective and then certainly how that impacts our shared service centers?
Seth Adler: So if those are the key questions, when did we start to ask them internally? When did you get appointed?
Loren Mahon: Yeah, so I've been doing this particular role for about five years.
Seth Adler: Oh, so some time?
Loren Mahon: Yeah, but I'm 28 years with Oracle.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Loren Mahon: So one of these people who hasn't jumped around a lot, you know sort of ...
But in that time I managed lots of different operational areas. Many of who made the move to shared services. So helped get those set up in our shared services. So we really have been doing at the enterprise level, we've been doing business transformation work since the late '90s.
Seth Adler: Which is one of the keys to Oracle being Oracle I think.
Loren Mahon: Yes.
Seth Adler: Right?
Loren Mahon: Yeah.
Seth Adler: So you mentioned shared services let's dive in there specifically. What's on your desk as far as shared services, how do you look at it?
Loren Mahon: We're always looking at what are the next opportunities for us to scale? When I look at business transformation overall we really have a pretty disciplined methodology that we've developed over the years that we've been doing this. And it's four steps. It's simplify, standardize, centralize and automate.
And we do them in that order. You know everybody thinks you're a technology company, automate everything. Certainly technology is a part of the picture for us, but we have that business discipline to make sure that we're really looking at business process first. And then automation becomes easier, cheaper, you can take more advantage of what it is there to sort take it to the next level.
So centralize, the third step in that process, is really around scale. And how ... If you break it down, let's simplify. Simplify is looking for best practices. What's the best practice. Of course, we like to work very quickly. So what I tell folks is what we're really looking for in the simplified step is best possible practice now. What is it we can succeed at doing today that gets us to the next step?
So then you take that best possible practice now and you move to step two, which is standardize. And for standardize you want it ... Everywhere you do that, you want to do it exactly the same way.
Seth Adler: There we go.
Loren Mahon: And then when you get to centralize, you want to do it in as few places as possible.
Seth Adler: Ah ha.
Loren Mahon: And that's your scaling step. So that scaling step of doing it at few places as possible isn't just geographic. It could be business unit, it could be how you look at decision flow. It could be around technology. What are you doing in your data centers. Any of those sorts of things.
So I'm gonna get to the answer to your question here in a minute.
Seth Adler: Fair enough.
Loren Mahon: So shared services is a part of that third step.
Seth Adler: Indeed.
Loren Mahon: That scaling step, that centralizing step. And so what we're constantly looking at is new opportunities to scale. Where have we not hit that third step in a process area.
And maybe something we haven't tried before. And maybe it's an edge area. Maybe it's in sales and marketing and how that impacts some of what we're trying to do in finance.
So looking for new areas to scale. Where looking for breadth. So we're looking at where we've done some scaling and we can do more. So maybe we've taken a collections process and our starting point for where we're scaling now, where we've moved it into shared services is somewhere mid-process. And we want to move that to earlier in the process. So we'll look at breadth. Is there increase breadth that we can move some new things in a particular area into shared services.
And then we're also looking for efficiency gains. Are there places where we can sort of go back, do some more simplifications, some more standardization. Leverage some technology in some new ways and therefore, gain greater efficiencies in shared services.
So I think those are really the key areas that we're looking at.
Seth Adler: Yeah, and I went to get to automate in a little bit later. But while we're here on those three steps, it sounds like ... It sounds simple in and of itself. And it can't be.
So how do you speak so easily about it? And how do you kind of try to apply that mindset to a behemoth of an organization?
Loren Mahon: Yeah. So there's a couple of ways that we do that. And I think certainly discipline is part of it. Having a methodology, using that methodology, articulating it across the organization so that everybody who's involved or touched by business transformation understands what you are doing.
I think the other piece of that is making sure that everybody understands what the strategy is for. So why are you doing it? Why are we moving forward in some new area?
So if I look at a couple of our current strategies, we're all about making sure that we have the best cloud products in the marketplace. But then we're also looking at making sure that we're the easiest company to do business with in the cloud.
And that's really where it's gonna touch off in our financial systems and processes and therefore, shared service center. So if people understand that hey, that's the strategy, we're after about all making it easier to do business with us and then they have a methodology to tie that into how do I do that. So the why the how. Okay I got to think about best practices, simplification. I've got to think about where I need to create standardization in the organization. That's the change management.
Hardest step of the four. Takes the longest, has the biggest ROI. The one everybody wants to skip because you gotta make people do something different than they're doing today.
Seth Adler: Right.
Loren Mahon: And you know, it's a tough step. So if I look at how do you do it, when we get to that step, that's really critical.
And then sort of the other sort of secret sauce to all this is making sure you have the right leadership to actually support the methodology. And so that is from top down. So all the way from executive sponsorship or mandate all the way through to our global process owners. And what they're doing in terms of leadership to actually make it all happen.
Seth Adler: Do you have any cliff notes on change management?
Loren Mahon: I do. I'm an anthropologist by education.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Loren Mahon: And I use my anthropology all the time. And that has given me a personal perspective on how to approach change management 'cause I look at it as a social scientist. And so part of anthropology is the concept of the participant observer.
Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Loren Mahon: So I think for change management to really work you have to have leaders who are willing to be participant observers. People who not just look at what needs to happen or make some decisions around it but then they live it to. And they get into the detail, they understand it. And that I think allows us to be much more effective at making change happen.
The other thing that we do is we partner our global process owners with global solution owners in our IT organization. So all of the transformation that we're doing is done in that partnership. It's not primarily driven by the business, it's not primarily drive by IT. But it's done-
Seth Adler: Through partnership.
Loren Mahon: ... on and on through that partnership. And I think when you're talking about change management that's really key because it is the marrying best practice on the business process side and best product on the technology side that allows that change management to go more smoothly.
Seth Adler: All right. So you mentioned your degree, where are you from originally?
Loren Mahon: I grew up in a military family so where I'm from is a long answer. I was born in California, I was raised across the United States. I spent a lot of time in a small town outside Annapolis. New Orleans, graduated from high-school there.
Seth Adler: Is that mom or dad or both?
Loren Mahon: Dad was a career naval officer.
Seth Adler: Okay, thank him for his service.
Loren Mahon: Yes, I will. Then I moved back to California for school, I went to UC San Diego.
Seth Adler: How did you decide on anthropology?
Loren Mahon: I actually started out as an engineering major. Really liked a lot of math and when I got into the upper division stuff, I realized I liked the math, I liked the problem-solving but I really didn't like the problems that engineers were solving at that point in time.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Loren Mahon: It wasn't really ... And I had a minor in anthropology and I realized I really like people problems more than some of the things I was doing in engineering. And so I switched majors to anthropology.
Seth Adler: How did that even get in as a minor?
Loren Mahon: At UC San Diego, depending on what college you're in, you take a non-contiguous minor. So you take something outside of your major area. I actually had aspired to be interested in anthropology since I was in the second grade.
I heard Margaret Mead speak when I was in second grade so I've always sort of had that as a passion.
Seth Adler: Interesting.
Loren Mahon: And I converted that passion to actually a degree-
Seth Adler: You were seven years old when you saw the speech. Do you remember the speech, what was it about it? Her simply her ray, was it what she was communicating? What do you think it was?
Loren Mahon: It's funny, I don't remember a lot of the details of what it was that she had to say. But I remember sort of it being about understanding how and why people behave differently. And that being fascinating to me. Because I think maybe, as a seven year old, I was a bit of a misfit. And so I was trying to figure out how people that I knew, my friends, were different from me and why maybe they did things differently or thought differently.
Seth Adler: Yeah.
Loren Mahon: And I think that's what intrigued me-
Seth Adler: Interesting.
Loren Mahon: ... as a seven year old.
Seth Adler: So it was the minor and then you said, watch, let's make this the major.
Loren Mahon: I converted to major and then I went on to get ... I have a master's degree in applied anthropology as well from American University.
Seth Adler: Back east.
Loren Mahon: I missed the east coast, I went back to the east coast to get my graduate degree in anthropology.
And I really focused in that applied anthropology degree on organizational behavior and looking at that from a social science perspective.
Seth Adler: Were there jobs there? In other words, I know that we've got 28 years at Oracle. How many other jobs could you have had in your career?
Loren Mahon: I had about ten years in my career before coming to Oracle. And it was a mixture, mostly in non-profit and public sector. Analysts jobs looking at things. For example, I worked for California State University system in their institutional research area looking at how well the universities were serving various populations in the state. Those kinds of things.
I also spent some time around integration policy. I worked for-
Seth Adler: Wow, in the news again, by the way. I don't know if you've noticed.
Loren Mahon: Yeah, exactly. I have. I worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development looking at legislative kinds of things. So I did a lot of that before coming to Oracle.
Seth Adler: Yeah. How could that have turned into Oracle, I wonder?
Loren Mahon: Yeah, how could that have turned into Oracle? I was finishing up sort of a grant funded job that I had, I knew that I had to get another job. My husband was in medical school at the time.
So I decided while he's going to school, I go to school. Hadn't gotten out of my system, got an MBA at night at San Francisco State University. Finishing that up I thought well, maybe for a little while I got to get a job. I go into public company. Silicon Valley was booming and growing and I said, well, let's try and see if these theories I've learned in business school combined with my anthropology, let's see what that looks like in a public company on Silicon Valley.
Oracle was small but it was growing leaps and bounds. So I thought I go there, stay a year or two, test the theories and go back to public sector, non-profit. But I got to Oracle and I just loved it. It was about technology, which I always intrigued me. It was about information, which also is a fascinating thing how does information flow, how do you access it, all those kinds of things.
It was a group of just really smart, interesting, fun people that work hard and had a good time and captivated me.
Seth Adler: If I'm doing the math right, it was 1989?
Loren Mahon: Yes, exactly right.
Seth Adler: My goodness. Give us a sense ... Very interesting people. Small but growing. Give us a sense of ... When did you come in contact with Larry, I guess is what you would get at, right?
Loren Mahon: Really early, engaged in the business from day one. Very accessible.
Seth Adler: What was he like back then, I guess?
Loren Mahon: He's been consistent all the times.
Seth Adler: Same thing.
Loren Mahon: A really smart guy, really engaged in the business, really creative, cutting edge, great ethical leader.
Seth Adler: You say engaged in business, you mentioned that twice. Ethical leader, fantastic. What makes him tick, do you think, I wonder?
Loren Mahon: He's a visionary, he really is a visionary. And for those of us who are working in operations inside the company, you always think oh, I want to think outside the box. As my boss, Safra Catz says, Larry doesn't even believe there's a box.
And I think that's really what makes him tick.
Seth Adler: That is perfectly said. And once you say it, you realize oh my, well then look at all those possibilities, possibilities are then endless.
Loren Mahon: Yeah.
Seth Adler: So going from '89 to ... What was the next step, kind of big step change to ... We've got Oracle today. We know what that is. But what were the big step changes in the organization itself?
Loren Mahon: There's been a lot of them but to go back to our point about business strategy, I'll talk about those a little bit.
In the late '90s, we were really operating as a very, we were a global company but very decentralized in terms of how that was happening. And it was pretty much regional, country-based. You had a managing director, a finance director for that particular subsidiary in a country who pretty much had control over everything.
Seth Adler: Which would have been most companies at the time?
Loren Mahon: At the time. And so we, at that point in time, we went through three major transformations but we ran them all in parallel.
One was a technology one and that was our move to single instance of our database, in our applications, as well as technology consolidation trying to do that in a more effective, streamlined, efficient manner.
On top of that we layered move to standardized practices and policies throughout the company.
Seth Adler: This is starting to sound familiar, by the way.
Loren Mahon: Yes. And the third project that was on top of that was a move to shared services. So we started that in the late '90s. And that really was phase one of our business transformation story. And it's where we learned a lot about how to do it, what the methodology should be. We learned a lot about what the returns where and how to do that. And we sort of had that out there, white papers about our billion dollar story and what we did in phase one.
If you look at phase two, phase two happened in the early 2000s when we began acquiring companies. So now we are taking what we learned in the first phase, which is simplifying and standardizing and centralizing, automating. Now we're doing the acquisition integration. And that really is phase two. Done that for a number of years, and then about four or five years ago, we sort of began to think about modernization, digitization, how we sort of begin phase three.
And that's all about our move internally into the cloud and what we're doing around that. So if you look at the stages of growth, I would say those three have been pretty critical to our success.
Seth Adler: And stage three is kind of where you are, right?
Loren Mahon: Exactly.
Seth Adler: Regarding stage two, I am talking to someone who remembers 1989 at Oracle. Speaking of change management, how much did culture change with all of these new companies and all of these new people and all of these new processes and all of these new things coming in.
You did mentioned that Larry himself has been steady all along. Just take us through all of those acquisitions that we all saw in the paper, every single day, sometimes multiple times a day.
Loren Mahon: So from a culture change, and I am saying as an anthropologist, so I look at this kind of thing from a culture change perspective is actually been very interesting because Oracle prior to acquisitions has had a very strong internal culture.
And some of that has to do with the leadership, some of it has to do with the industry we're in and some of it just has to do with the niche or the people that work here.
And that very strong culture has created some of the core, all the way through the acquisitions. So I would say that has not really changed a whole lot. What has changed is, as you scale, certainly you change from sort of being a small or a more flexible and adaptable organization to one that's bigger, more structured. There's efficiency you got to watch, you got to keep your eyes on that. Make sure you do that in a way that you're still gaining efficiency.
And then certainly, part of what we're looking at in our third phase here is agility, making sure that we're very agile. So part of that culture changes happen through acquisitions is when particularly when you acquire smaller companies that have a lot of agility, you learn from that. So I think we've learned a lot from the acquisitions about how to be a big company that can have the same kinds of agility and flexibility and collaboration and all of those kinds of things that really work well in a small company and do that under the kind of scale that we can have at a large company.
Seth Adler: So that fourth stage of automation in this third phase of digitalization, let's get at it. What are we looking at?
Loren Mahon: That's our move to the cloud, our internal move to the cloud. And it's been great. Our approach to it has been to look at all of the opportunities that we have as we're moving off of on-premise technology to cloud technology, just like any customer of our products would.
We're reinventing all over the place, all of our processes, looking at what new opportunities do we have. This is not just a lift and shift, hey yeah, we're on-premise, let's move to the cloud. This is really taking that opportunity to say what does the cloud offer us that we can really take advantage of now.
So we've done a whole lot of things around creating additional efficiencies, looking at our internal control environment and how does that better enable with what we're doing around cloud. All of our business intelligence, adaptive analytics, all of those kinds of things that we're doing trying to take full advantage of those. We're taking the opportunity to reinvent everywhere that we can.
And then one of the real wins that we have, and I talked about agility. And one of the real wins that we have in our internal pivot to the cloud, is the ability to be a much more agile finance organization. Because the cloud offers us the ability to be on the latest technology all the time. So as a result, our business process owners and our solution owners are constantly thinking about best practice, what's the next one. And they don't have to wait three years for the next upgrade. They are getting that all of the time.
And so it's created, we talk about change management, I would say in stage three change management has moved to be a much more agile process for us.
Seth Adler: In and of itself.
Loren Mahon: In and of itself. And so the culture is used to progressive change, all of the time. What's the next thing I can do that I can do better, that I couldn't do two or three months ago but now that's enabled by our cloud technology.
All of those things have created this concept of change as an opportunity instead of change as something I want to avoid.
Seth Adler: Pull instead of push or push instead of pull, whichever one it is.
Loren Mahon: Yes, so it's really ... Fundamentally we're an innovation company and it is taking innovation to a whole new level from the operational perspective.
So now we have innovators all over the place, we're actually able to see their ideas come to fruition because we have the capability to always be rethinking, reinventing and supporting that via technology.
Seth Adler: I do remiss if I didn't ask you about where you are with RPA, into machine learning and all of that.
Loren Mahon: Certainly that is a part of what we're looking at in terms of what those opportunities are. From an RPA perspective, a lot of what we are seeing with our internal use of cloud products is a lot of the automation that we're able to do, we're able to get right out of the box in a product itself.
The machine learning is another whole thing. And the machine learning is great. We have a number of places where we're going to be taking advantage of machine learning or we've already done it. Particularly around areas like looking for opportunities to look at discounting for our suppliers, to look at fraud, to look at what we're doing from an FP&A perspective also in terms of are there new pieces of data that we can use and analyze because we can do that with a broader dataset and much faster than we could if we were doing it with human beings.
So all of those adaptive intelligence kinds of things are things we're looking at as well as sort of doing this phase three.
Seth Adler: Got it. And you said, I think in heard you say, we're looking at and have been doing.
Loren Mahon: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Seth Adler: As far as have been doing, is there anything of note that you can share in machine learning?
Loren Mahon: Probably not yet.
Seth Adler: Okay. Which is why we'll stay in touch I guess, right?
Loren Mahon: Exactly right. Not yet. We're sort of in progress at this point in time in terms of that implementation. We have it on the roadmap for us but-
Seth Adler: What's your timeline, just so we know?
Loren Mahon: Our timeline is probably within the next year.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Loren Mahon: We'll have some of that stuff going. We got a couple of major milestones in our transformation that are occurring, one in December, one in June. And I think once we get through those, then we'll be able to actually get some of the implementation around the machine learning that we want.
Particularly in the process area. The machine learning around that business intelligence area that's further ahead.
Seth Adler: I've got three final questions for you. I tell you what they and then I'll ask you them in order.
Loren Mahon: Okay.
Seth Adler: The first is what has most surprised you at work along the way? We talked about your career.
Second is what has most surprised you in life. The third is, on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there.
But before we get to those three questions, I consider myself an unlicensed anthropologist. And understanding that you have a degree in anthropology, I just want to make sure to touch on that with you. I talk to people like you all day long, every day. And it is for that reason that I consider myself an unlicensed anthropologist. Should I stop calling myself this or is this okay, from a decreed anthropologist?
Loren Mahon: It's okay. I would say truly you're doing that with an anthropological thinking if you're taking what you're learning and applying it to yourself and sharing it with others.
And it sounds like you're doing that so you check that box.
Seth Adler: I'm certainly sharing it with others and I try and I'm trying to apply it to myself, that's the hardest part of course. Right? Isn't it, why is it the hardest part?
Loren Mahon: I think it's ... Boy, self awareness is so important. If you're a practicing anthropologist the only way you can really articulate and understand another culture is to make sure you understand your own and how you operate in it.
And I think if you're not self aware then it's very difficult for you to take what you're observing and then apply it in your own culture and in your own life.
Seth Adler: So I got to be doing that.
Loren Mahon: So you need to be self aware.
Seth Adler: We talked about homework before we turned on the microphones so that's my homework.
Loren Mahon: Yes it is.
Seth Adler: All right. So these three final questions. The first one what has most surprised you at work along the way?
Loren Mahon: I think the thing that has most surprised me sort of goes back to that story, the fact that I've been at Oracle for 28 years. I certainly didn't plan to stay there.
Seth Adler: You think you weren't even supposed to be in the corporate culture at all?
Loren Mahon: Yeah, exactly. And I think the thing that has most surprised me is how fulfilling being at a company for that long of a period of time has been for me. That there's always something new to learn. Learning is really important to me, is a personal value so I'm constantly learning there. I'm constantly challenged there and I'm constantly feeling like I can use my talents there. And so that I think surprised me.
Seth Adler: Yeah. Also if you take the Oracle picture that you had painted without that constant change you would not still be Oracle, if that makes sense.
Loren Mahon: True, yes, it does.
Seth Adler: Which is ironic somehow. What has most surprised you in life?
Loren Mahon: I think what most surprised me in life is the ability for human beings to be incredibly resilient. And to be able to take what life throws at them and managed that with grace and with humility and with joy.
Seth Adler: Is there a specific thing that you're talking about there? Those are big specific lessons almost.
Loren Mahon: I think ... I'm a cancer survivor so the capacity that I've seen in my own life and in others near me who have gone through similar journeys whether it's serious illness or family issues or disasters or whatever it might be. I think we're seeing that with some of the national disasters, just look recently in the news. Is the ability for human beings to just survive that but more than just survive. Survive that pulling together, by as I say, doing it with humility and finding positive joy out of that, I think surprises me.
Seth Adler: I've been through half step apart, some of the battles that you have been through personally so I guess congratulations in some way. Right?
On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there.
Loren Mahon: Oh my goodness.
Seth Adler: It doesn't have to be a perfect song, doesn't have to be your favorite song. Just as you've gone-
Loren Mahon: The one that just happens to come to me right now ... One of my favorite movies of all times is The Sound of Music.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Loren Mahon: So I would have to say the opening song, the hills are alive with the sound of music, I think it's got to be on my life soundtrack. I think there's a couple of reasons for that.
One is I love being outdoors, I'm energized by the environment, by the beauty of the earth and creation in general. And that's a story about resilience and about finding joy in difficult situations.
And it's also a story about an individual who becomes self aware. And I think all of those parallels are on my own life journey. So I think that would be the song I make sure is on my soundtrack.
Seth Adler: I love it, not to muddy the waters, now that we're done here, let's go fly a kite.
Loren Mahon: All right. Thank you.
Seth Adler: Loren, appreciate it.
Loren Mahon: Appreciate it too.
Seth Adler: And there you have, Loren Mahon joins us. I got to think about best practices. Simplification, I've got to think about where to create standardization in the organization, that's the change management.
Hardest step of the four. Takes the longest, has the biggest ROI. The one everybody wants to skip because you gotta make people do something different than you're doing today.
Very much appreciate Loren and her time. Very much appreciate you and yours. Stay tuned.