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Billboards expose Oracle executive's affair

BEYOND THE BOARDROOM

Co-President Charles Phillips, confronted with three-story-tall evidence, confesses.

January 23, 2010|By Jessica Guynn

Reporting from San Francisco — A prominent Silicon Valley executive with ties to the Obama administration has admitted to an extramarital affair after his former mistress plastered romantic pictures of the two of them on giant billboards in three major cities.

"I had an 8½-year serious relationship with YaVaughnie Wilkins," said Charles E. Phillips, co-president of Oracle Corp. and a member of President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. "The relationship with Ms. Wilkins has since ended, and we both wish each other well."

Wilkins, a writer and actress, this week had a three-story-tall sign put up near Times Square in New York with a photo of Wilkins and Phillips hugging and beaming. The sign also quoted Phillips saying to Wilkins: "You are my soul mate forever."

A high-tech executive's affair would not usually capture public attention. But the eye-popping way in which this affair was revealed did. The billboards were first noted by the Gawker blog and then turned up in the New York Post, which began the story with the line: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned -- and then there's this lady."

Billboards that appeared in Atlanta and San Francisco have been taken down. Wilkins, who lives in the Bay Area, could not be reached for comment.

The stunt shocked the high-tech community, which tends to keep quiet about personal indiscretions. Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison, legendary for his aggressive business practices and colorful lifestyle, is one of the few flamboyant figures in Silicon Valley.

Ellison recruited Phillips, a former Marine with degrees in business and law and a reputation as a star Wall Street analyst, in 2003. Phillips quickly rose through the ranks, emerging as the public face of the technology giant and a contender to succeed Ellison.

He is one of the highest paid executives in Silicon Valley who is not a chief executive, pulling down $800,000 in salary and taking home nearly $20 million in 2009. He owns more than $80 million in Oracle stock and sits on high-profile boards, including Oracle and Viacom Inc.

Oracle, based in Redwood City, Calif., did not respond to requests for comment. Phillips is slated to lead a meeting for industry analysts next week to discuss the company's $7.4-billion merger with Sun Microsystems. A source close to the situation said Phillips would attend, signaling that Oracle is standing by Phillips.

"He is a significant asset to the company," said one friend who asked to not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the affair. "There is some concern on Wall Street. If nothing else, this is bound to distract him."

Phillips' wife, Karen, filed for divorce in February 2008. The New York Post says the couple recently reconciled.

Crisis management specialists say Phillips has taken the right steps to put the scandal behind him.

"Take responsibility and apologize in one fell swoop and then shut up," said Chris Lehane, a former White House aide and advisor to President Clinton. "Ultimately the shareholders want to make money. If they have confidence that this person can help them do that, that's what's going to matter to them at the end of the day."

UBS analyst Brent Thill declined to comment on the billboard scandal that drew attention to Phillips' personal life and away from Oracle, which he says is rebounding along with corporate spending.

"The company is going to have a good story to tell over the next year," Thill said.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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