Jay Nussbaum, a top executive at


(ORCL) - Get Report

, will leave the company to take the No. 2 job at an undisclosed Oracle partner company.

The company confirmed the news, which was disclosed earlier Friday by Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Wendell Laidley. Nussbaum's departure could rattle the software maker.

It adds to an exodus of executive talent that has stoked worries about CEO Larry Ellison's brash style. Oracle fell 16 cents Friday to $14.03.

However, Oracle portrayed the departure as an amicable one, playing up the fact that Nussbaum was taking advantage of a career opportunity. In an email to employees, Ellison praised Nussbaum's 10 years at the company, and stressed that Nussbaum is going to an Oracle partner, not a competitor.

"Even though Jay will no longer be working for Oracle, he will still beworking with Oracle," Ellison wrote. "I am pleased to announce that Jay will be joining one of our largest and most important partners in a very senior role. All of us here at Oracle can look forward to working with Jay for manyyears to come."

"I want to personally thank Jay for all his hard work and sincere friendshipover the past decade," Ellison wrote.

The news comes just two days before Oracle is due to kick off its annual Oracle OpenWorld users conference in San Francisco. The company hopes to use the forum to highlight the new version of its database and application server software. Now, however, that's likely to be overshadowed by further concern of executive turmoil at the company.

Nussbaum, an executive vice president, was responsible for the company's service industries business. That unit encompasses government, education, health care, communications, utilities and financial services industries.

Nussbaum sits on Oracle's executive committee. Since joining Oracle in 1992 as the senior vice president and general manager of what was then Oracle Federal, Nussbaum has grown the business from just under $60 million in sales to more than $1 billion.

But all that success doesn't change the fact that Nussbaum becomes the company's fourth top-level defection in 18 months. In June 2000, President

Ray Lane left the company; he later cited differences with Ellison. He was followed

in November 2000 by Gary Bloom, until then considered Ellison's heir apparent, who left to take the top spot at Silicon Valley neighbor

Veritas Software

(VRTS) - Get Report

. Then, Executive Vice President Sandy Sanderson

said in August this year he would take a leave of absence for health reasons.

Laidley, who told his firm's sales force about the news Friday, said it should be taken in context.

"Oracle has been blessed by having a lot of bench talent, so I think it's important not to exaggerate the impact of Jay's departure," said Laidley, who has a hold rating on the stock and whose firm hasn't done underwriting for Oracle. "But as an incremental data point, there's always reason to be concerned that senior-level departures like this could have a negative impact on the company's ability to execute."

In his note, Ellison said Senior Vice President Kevin Fitzgerald would manage the higher education and health care business, in addition to his current responsibility for public sector. SVP Steve Perkins will manage the federal, state and local government business, reporting to Fitzgerald. Thefinancial services, communications and utilities businesses will fall under the domain of executive vice president George Roberts, and Oracle's North American consulting operations will be combined under Senior Vice President Keith Block.