“I have had all of the disadvantages required for success.”
Lawrence Joseph “Larry” Ellison (born August 17, 1944) is an American internet entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist. He was the chief executive officer of the software company Oracle Corporation between its foundation in 1977 and 2014. In 2014, he was listed by Forbes as the third-wealthiest man in America and as the fifth-wealthiest person in the world, with a fortune of $56.2 billion.
Ellison was born in New York City but grew up in Chicago. He studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the University of Chicago without graduating before moving to California in 1966. While working at Ampex in the early 1970s, he became influenced by Edgar F. Codd‘s research on relational database design, which led in 1977 to the formation of what became Oracle. Oracle became a successful database vendor to mid- and low-range systems, competing with Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server, which led to Ellison being listed by Forbes as the richest Californian in 2006.
Ellison has donated up to 1% of his wealth to charity and has signed The Giving Pledge. In addition to his work at Oracle, Ellison has had success in yachting, through Oracle Team USA, and is a licensed aircraft pilot who owns two military jets.
Early life and education
Larry Ellison was born in New York City, to an unwed Jewish mother. His father was an Italian American United States Army Air Corps pilot. After Ellison contracted pneumonia at the age of nine months, his mother gave him to her aunt and uncle for adoption. He did not meet his biological mother again until he was 48.
Ellison would move to Chicago’s South Shore, a middle-class Jewish neighborhood. Ellison remembers his adoptive mother as warm and loving, in contrast to his austere, unsupportive, and often distant adoptive father, who adopted the name Ellison to honor his point of entry into the United States, Ellis Island. Louis Ellison was a government employee who had made a small fortune in Chicago real estate, only to lose it during the Great Depression.
Although Ellison was raised in a Reform Jewish home by his adoptive parents, who attended synagogue regularly, he remained a religious skeptic. Ellison states: “While I think I am religious in one sense, the particular dogmas of Judaism are not dogmas I subscribe to. I don’t believe that they are real. They’re interesting stories. They’re interesting mythology, and I certainly respect people who believe these are literally true, but I don’t. I see no evidence for this stuff.” At age thirteen, Ellison refused to have a bar mitzvah celebration. Ellison says that his love affair with Israel is not connected to religious sentiments, but rather due to the innovative spirit of Israelis in the technology sector.
Ellison left the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign after his second year, not taking his final exams, because his adoptive mother had just died. After spending a summer in northern California, he attended the University of Chicago for one term, where he first encountered computer design. In 1966, aged 22, he moved to northern California.
Early career and Oracle
During the 1970s, after a brief stint at Amdahl Corporation, Ellison began working for Ampex Corporation. His projects included a database for the CIA, which he named “Oracle”. Ellison was inspired by a paper written by Edgar F. Codd on relational database systems called “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”. In 1977, he founded Software Development Laboratories (SDL) with two partners and an investment of $2,000; $1,200 of the money was his.
In 1979 the company renamed itself Relational Software Inc., and in 1982 officially became Oracle Systems Corporation after its flagship product, the Oracle database. Ellison had heard about the IBM System R database, also based on Codd’s theories, and wanted Oracle to achieve compatibility with it, but IBM made this impossible by refusing to share System R’s code. The initial release of Oracle in 1979 was called Oracle 2; there was no Oracle 1. In 1990, Oracle laid off 10% of its workforce (about 400 people) because it was losing money. This crisis, which almost resulted in the company’s bankruptcy, came about because of Oracle’s “up-front” marketing strategy, in which sales people urged potential customers to buy the largest possible amount of software all at once. The sales people then booked the value of future license sales in the current quarter, thereby increasing their bonuses. This became a problem when the future sales subsequently failed to materialize. Oracle eventually had to restate its earnings twice, and had to settle class-action lawsuits arising from its having overstated its earnings. Ellison would later say that Oracle had made “an incredible business mistake”.
Although IBM dominated the mainframe relational database market with its DB2 and SQL/DS database products, it delayed entering the market for a relational database on UNIX and Windows operating systems. This left the door open for Sybase, Oracle, Informix, and eventually Microsoft to dominate mid-range systems and microcomputers. Around this time, Oracle fell behind Sybase. From 1990 to 1993, Sybase was the fastest-growing database company and the database industry’s darling vendor, but soon fell victim tomerger mania. Sybase’s 1996 merger with Powersoft resulted in a loss of focus on its core database technology. In 1993, Sybase sold the rights to its database software running under the Windows operating system to Microsoft Corporation, which now markets it under the name “SQL Server”.
In 1994, Informix overtook Sybase and became Oracle’s most important rival. The intense war between Informix CEO Phil White and Ellison was front page Silicon Valley news for three years. In April 1997, Informix announced a major revenue shortfall and earnings restatements. Phil White eventually landed in jail, and IBM absorbed Informix in 2001. Also in 1997, Ellison was made a director of Apple Computer after Steve Jobs returned to the company. Ellison resigned in 2002, saying “my schedule does not currently allow me to attend enough of the formal board meetings to warrant a role as a director”. With the defeat of Informix and of Sybase, Oracle enjoyed years of industry dominance until the rise of Microsoft SQL Server in the late 1990s and IBM’s acquisition of Informix Software in 2001 to complement their DB2 database. As of 2013 Oracle’s main competition for new database licenses on UNIX, Linux, and Windows operating systems comes from IBM’s DB2 and from Microsoft SQL Server, which only runs on Windows. IBM’s DB2 still dominates the mainframe database market.
In 2005, Oracle Corporation paid Ellison a $975,000 salary, a $6,500,000 bonus, and other compensation of $955,100. In 2007, Ellison earned a total compensation of $61,180,524, which included a base salary of $1,000,000, a cash bonus of $8,369,000, and options granted of $50,087,100. In 2008, he earned a total compensation of $84,598,700, which included a base salary of $1,000,000, a cash bonus of $10,779,000, no stock grants, and options granted of $71,372,700. In the year ending May 31, 2009, he made $56.8 million. In 2006, Forbes ranked him as the richest Californian. In April 2009, after a tug-of-war with IBM and Hewlett-Packard, Oracle announced its intent to buy Sun Microsystems. On July 2, 2009, for the fourth year in a row, Oracle’s board awarded Ellison another 7 million stock options. On August 22, 2009, it was reported that Ellison would be paid only $1 for his base salary for the fiscal year of 2010, down from the $1,000,000 he was paid in fiscal 2009.
The European Union approved Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems on January 21, 2010, and agreed that Oracle’s acquisition of Sun “has the potential to revitalize important assets and create new and innovative products”. The Sun acquisition also gave Oracle control of the popular MySQL open source database, which Sun had acquired in 2008. On August 9, 2010, Ellison denounced Hewlett-Packard‘s board for firing CEO Mark Hurd, writing that “the HP board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.” (Ellison and Hurd are close personal friends.) Then on September 6, Oracle hired Hurd and made him co-president alongside Safra A. Catz. Ellison retained the CEO position.
In March 2010, the Forbes list of billionaires ranked Ellison as the sixth-richest person in the world and he is the third-richest American, with an estimated net worth of US $28 billion. On July 27, 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ellison was the best-paid executive in the last decade, collecting a total compensation of US $1.84 billion. In September 2011, Ellison was listed on the Forbes list of billionaires as the fifth richest man in the world and was still the third richest American, with a net worth of about $36.5 billion. In September 2012, Ellison was again listed on the Forbes list of billionaires as the third richest American citizen, behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, with a net worth of $44 billion. In October 2012, he was listed just behind David Hamilton Koch as the eighth richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ellison owns stakes in Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Quark Biotechnology Inc. and Astex Pharmaceuticals. In June 2012, Ellison agreed to buy 98 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lana’ifrom David Murdock‘s company, Castle & Cooke. The price was reported to be between $500 million and $600 million. In 2005, Ellison agreed to settle a four-year-old insider-trading lawsuit by offering to pay $100 million to charity in Oracle’s name.
In 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal, Ellison earned $94.6 million. On September 18, 2014, Ellison announced he would be stepping down (with Mark Hurd and Safra Catz to become co-CEOs). He plans to become executive chairman and CTO.
In 1992, Ellison shattered his elbow in a high-speed bicycle crash. His search for a highly skilled orthopedic surgeon led him to Dr. Michael W. Chapman at the University of California, Davis. Impressed by his care, Ellison donated $5 million to seed the Lawrence J. Ellison Musculo-Skeletal Research Center. In 1998, the Lawrence J. Ellison Ambulatory Care Center opened on the Sacramento campus of the UC Davis Medical Center.
In order to settle an insider trading lawsuit arising from Ellison’s selling nearly $1 billion of Oracle stock, he was allowed to donate $100 million to his own charitable foundation without admitting wrongdoing. A California judge refused to allow Oracle to pay Ellison’s legal fees of $24 million. Ellison’s lawyer had argued that if Ellison were to pay the fees, that could be construed as an admission of guilt. His charitable donations to Stanford University raised questions about the independence of two Stanford professors who evaluated the case’s merits for Oracle. In response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, Ellison made a controversial offer to donate software to the federal government that would enable it to build and run a national identification database and issue ID cards.
Forbes ’ 2004 list of charitable donations made by the wealthiest 400 Americans stated that Ellison had donated $151,092,103, about 1% of his estimated personal wealth. In June 2006, he announced he would not honor his earlier pledge of $115 million toHarvard University, claiming it was due to the departure of former President Lawrence Summers. Oracle spokesman Bob Wynne announced, “It was really Larry Summers’ brainchild and once it looked like Larry Summers was leaving, Larry Ellison reconsidered … [I]t was Larry Ellison and Larry Summers that had initially come up with this notion.” In 2007, Ellison pledged $500,000 to fortify a community centre in Sderot, Israel, after discovering that the building was not fortified against rocket attacks. Other charitable donations by Ellison include a $10 million donation to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, about which he said: “In my mind, there is no greater honor than supporting some of the bravest people in the world … These men and women come together with indefatigable purpose, to defend Israel and strive to co-exist in peace.”
In August 2010, it was reported that Ellison is one of the 40 billionaires who have signed “The Giving Pledge“. Ellison wrote: “Many years ago, I put virtually all of my assets into a trust with the intent of giving away at least 95 percent of my wealth to charitable causes. I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time. Until now, I have done this giving quietly because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter.”