Tennis has long gained from the extraordinary generosity and vision of the captains of American industry.
Without the support of Philip Morris CEO and Billie Jean King backer Joe Cullman, the WTA would never have gained such success. Larry Ellison saved the BNP Paribas Open from being shipped to a distant shore, and then he went on to help transform the game. Right along with those two giants is Ellison’s fellow Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd, who passed away today.
The tireless 61-year-old helped upgrade college tennis with a series of tourneys. He created an invaluable network of Challenger events that contributed mightily to the success of Bianca Andreescu, Amanda Anisimova, Reilly Opelka and many others. He created Oracle’s annual $200,000 US Tennis Award that empowered the careers of Mackie McDonald, Danielle Collins, and others. Plus, he was a huge backer of the game-changing UTR rating system.
“We lost an amazing leader who was a force of nature. It’s a very, very sad day for tennis,” commented Mark Leschly, the founder of UTR. Indian Wells founder Charlie Pasarell said, “Hopefully, Hurd’s incredible legacy will continue.”
Leschly noted, “Mark was incredibly passionate about everything and did a tremendous job in tennis. He had a day job at Oracle, but his family and tennis were his passions. He gave so much back to college tennis, the ITA [the Intercollegiate Tennis Association], UTR, Indian Wells and more recently with the entire pro circuit.
“First and foremost,” said Leschly, “Mark was a player, as a junior and then in college at Baylor. Playing and interacting with players was his life. Thankfully, he combined the mission of Oracle with his passion.
“From the first days when I had a vision for UTR to get more people into tennis, Mark was right there. We spent hours talking about how to make tennis better, more affordable and easier. Mark was a big part of what UTR has accomplished.”
Former player and longtime industry executive Raymond Moore has a markedly similar story. He went to Hurd with an idea for an American Challenger circuit that would provide North American players with invaluable ranking points and prize money. Hurd dove right in and the Oracle circuit that soon emerged brought huge benefits to many, including Andreescu, who went on to win Indian Wells and the US Open. Building on that concept, Hurd got Oracle to launch an American Futures circuit that should soon be another boon for American tennis.
Timothy Russell, the head of the ITA, told IT that Hurd “taught me to build success one block at a time. We started with the Malibu Masters, then added the US Tennis Awards and now there’s the pro series. He had a vision and saw college tennis as pivotal connective tissue from juniors all the way to the pros. But what amazed me the most was that here is a guy who is running $40 billion a year company and yet if I sent him an email, he’d respond so quickly. He enabled us to move the dial and raise the profile of college tennis. He’d say, ‘We want to build events of distinction.’’
Longtime UC Berkeley coach Peter Wright noted, “Mark’s vision was so broad and yet so specific. He had a global vision and the ability to handle things on the micro-level. That’s what you see in the most successful executives. He made incredible moves for college teams. He brought us to Indian Wells and even took us up for dinner at Larry Ellison’s Porcupine Creek estate. There he introduced us to and interviewed Nadal. Here was one of the most successful business people in the world interviewing one of the most successful players in the world. And he did it with such humbleness and grace. He loved drawing Rafa out and humanizing him for everyone.” Hurd played with many a VIP, from Nadal to Eddie Dibbs and Tommy Haas. Wright noted that Hurd had created a tennis center at his alma mater. “He was a Baylor Bear through and through. His experience as a collegian shaped him.”
Leschly recalled that he’d played with Hurd just over a year ago. “At eight in the morning he was ready to go. The guy hit 100 mph-plus serves and offered fist pumps. If you gave him a tight line call, he’d get right in your face. He loved to battle – he loved to win. At 61 he’d get out there in a tank top in 90-degree heat and hit for two hours. He blasted aces and hit bombs down the T.”
Coach Wright observed that Hurd “wasn’t looking for something for Oracle, he was looking for a way to give back – and tennis was his vehicle.” Raymond Moore succinctly added, “In his time, Mark made his mark.”
Also Reporting: Douglas Hochmuth