"When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts." – Larry Ellison.
Lawrence Joseph Ellison was not to meet his biological mother until he was 48 years old, often feuded with his adoptive father, dropped out of high school and is known for the occasional run in with authority, yet he has risen through the ranks to become the fourth richest person in the world and remains actively involved as chief executive officer of the $100 billion company that he founded.
Ellison was born in New York’s Bronx, but grew up on the southside of Chicago. His adoptive parents were making a meager living following the postwar years and the young Ellison often appeared to be somewhat listless and without direction. He dropped out of school and then also out of college, but during that brief time at the University of Chicago he picked up enough knowledge about computer programming to spark an interest that was to prove very prophetic. "I have had all of the disadvantages required for success," he would later quip.
After an extended period working in various technical and administrative positions, Larry arrived in Berkeley, California, where he was to plant his roots. His programming skills came to the fore when he was employed as a programmer at Ampex and in 1977 he and two colleagues left to found their own company, Software Development Labs, with only a few thousand dollars.
Their attentions focused largely on database management systems and in particular on a new concept called Structured Query Language, SQL, a concept which has much significance in our modern era. Their innovations caught the eye of the CIA no less and enabled them to win a crucial two year contract award to develop database management for the government entity. This was to lead to the creation of the Oracle project.
By 1980, Ellison’s company had designed a commercial application based on the Oracle theory and they were poised for a meteoric rise. Computer giant IBM saw the value of Oracle and from then on the business doubled its size every year. Software Development Labs was soon to become the Oracle Corporation, in honor of its priceless creation.
However, it was not all sweetness and light. Soon after the company went public in 1986, Oracle committed, in Ellison’s words, "an incredible business mistake." Overzealous employees would often stir in future sales potential into current business figures, artificially inflating the value of the company. Over time, this activity was to lead to the potential demise of Oracle and it was only through direct intervention by Ellison that Oracle actually avoided bankruptcy in the early 90s. Recognizing that they needed to make primary changes in the organization, he replaced many of the senior staff with far more experienced organizers and moved his own energies into product development, allowing experts to right the ship. Soon thereafter, the company rose back to become the industry leader in database management software.
Ellison’s goals for Oracle appeared undiminished, nor did they seem to have any boundary. Through the 90s and into the new millennium, a process of acquisition would see multiple billion dollar purchases of small and large companies, aiming to increase Oracle’s dominance. It appears that his goal is to go after number one competitor IBM and to create an all-encompassing systems and software enterprise conglomerate. Through his career though, he has often said that Microsoft is his biggest target and not IBM. He has made no bones about the fact that he dislikes the way that Microsoft operates and would dearly love to engage. "If an innovative piece of software comes along, Microsoft copies it and makes it part of Windows… This is not innovation. This is the end of innovation."
Ellison’s tenacity in the business marketplace seems to be matched in his personal life. He is never one to stand still, is an owner of many exotic racing cars and exudes passion for yacht racing. One of his greatest achievements outside of the boardroom came as the winner of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, against considerable opposition and awful weather.
As part of a passion for living life on the edge, he settled an insider trading lawsuit out of court and was often cited for breaking aviation rules when piloting his private jet. However, he has been very magnanimous in his charitable donations, frequently topping a list of the most charitable donations made by wealthy Americans.
Currently, Ellison is poised to make his biggest achievement yet as, pending regulatory approval, Oracle will purchase hardware and software giant Sun Microsystems for $7.4 Billion. What started off with a few thousand dollar investment will have become the world’s largest business software company.