#127 Larry Ellison Oracle

Summary Notes


In this discussion, the speakers analyze Larry Ellison's complex character and the growth of Oracle, drawing parallels between Ellison's traits and the film "Citizen Kane." Ellison's relentless optimism, competitive nature, and charisma are highlighted as key factors in Oracle's success, despite facing significant challenges like near bankruptcy and restating financials. Ellison's approach to business, favoring control and a bias for action, is contrasted with his personal life, where his relationships, particularly with Steve Jobs, reveal a softer side. The narrative delves into Oracle's early missteps, Ellison's refusal to sell equity, and his focus on a few critical business aspects, encapsulating his philosophy that only a handful of things are truly important. The speakers also touch on Ellison's personal growth, his influence on others, and the importance of building something meaningful.

Summary Notes

Personal Assessment of Charlie Kane

  • Speaker A reflects on the character of Charlie Kane, suggesting Kane possessed a form of "private greatness" that he never shared.
  • Kane is described as someone who never fully gave himself away to others, only leaving a "tip."
  • Despite having a "generous mind" and many opinions, Kane's only true belief was in himself.

"Well, I suppose he had some private sort of greatness, but he kept it to himself. He never gave himself away. He never gave anything away. He just left you a tip."

This quote indicates that while Kane may have been intellectually generous, he was emotionally reserved, sharing his thoughts but not his deeper self.

Comparison of Larry Ellison to Charlie Kane

  • The discussion pivots to Larry Ellison, with the speakers drawing parallels between Ellison and Kane.
  • The speakers suggest that Ellison, like Kane, has a private sort of greatness and a generous mind.
  • Ellison is characterized as someone with many opinions but no convictions beyond himself.

"He never believed in anything except Larry Ellison. He never had a conviction except Larry Ellison in his life."

The quote emphasizes Ellison's self-centeredness, mirroring the earlier comments about Kane, suggesting Ellison is similarly focused on himself.

Book Reference and Quote Adaptation

  • The book "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison" by Mike Wilson is introduced.
  • The subtitle of the book is humorously compared to Ellison's self-perception.
  • The speakers adapt a quote from the film "Citizen Kane" to fit Ellison, replacing "Charlie Kane" with "Larry Ellison."

"And instead of saying Charlie Kane, I'm going to put in the name Larry Ellison because I think that is what the author wants us to think."

This adaptation of the quote is intended to draw a direct comparison between the fictional Kane and the real-life Ellison, suggesting similar traits between the two.

Ellison's Mind and Conversational Diversion

  • Ellison is likened to a "search engine gone haywire," indicating his mind's breadth and unpredictability.
  • A conversation about Chicago in the 1950s leads to a tangent about the Clinton presidency, illustrating Ellison's tendency to control the narrative.

"If you asked him for information about Chicago in the 1950s, he told you about the Clinton presidency."

This quote demonstrates Ellison's habit of diverting conversations to topics he prefers rather than directly answering questions posed to him.

Ellison's Childhood and Self-Perception

  • The author of the book seeks to explore Ellison's childhood, but Ellison is evasive.
  • Ellison's response to questions about his future anticipations as a child reveals his disbelief at his own success.

"You mean, did I anticipate becoming the fifth wealthiest person in the United States? No, he said, I mean, this is all kind of surreal. I don't even believe it now."

The quote reveals Ellison's surprise at his own level of success and the surreal nature of his wealth, suggesting a disconnect between his earlier expectations and his adult achievements.

Oracle's Early Days and Database Innovation

  • Discussion of Oracle's beginnings, with Ellison writing computer programs while maintaining a day job.
  • The opportunity Oracle identified was in creating databases that could answer complex business queries quickly.

"In the mid-1970s, computer databases could do few things extremely well."

This quote sets the stage for explaining the technological gap that Oracle aimed to fill, highlighting the limitations of existing databases at the time.

Ellison's Control and Confidence

  • Ellison's control over Oracle and his refusal to sell equity or raise venture capital is emphasized.
  • His confidence in his abilities and the future of his company is underscored, even during times of potential failure.

"He was adamant about not selling equity and he wouldn't sell his stock."

This quote underscores Ellison's desire to maintain control over Oracle and his belief in the company's success, despite the risks involved.

Hiring Philosophy and Corporate Culture

  • Ellison's hiring practices favored intelligence over experience, seeking "unruly geniuses."
  • The corporate culture at Oracle was shaped by Ellison's own confident and combative style.

"When they were recruiting from universities, they'd ask people, are you the smartest person you know? And then if they said yes, they'd hire them."

This quote illustrates Oracle's aggressive and confident hiring strategy, which sought to bring in the most self-assured and intelligent candidates.

Ellison's Contradictory Nature

  • Ellison is described as a complex individual, capable of both selfishness and generosity.
  • His public persona contrasts with his private shyness and insecurity, revealing a multifaceted character.

"He was a fundamentally shy man who could delight audience with his colorful speeches."

This quote captures the duality of Ellison's nature, showing him as a private individual who can nonetheless command public attention with charisma.

Ellison's Insight and Software Industry Growth

  • Ellison's foresight in recognizing the potential of the software industry is commended.
  • The size of the software industry in 1970 is contrasted with its present-day magnitude, highlighting Ellison's early entry into the field.

"In 1970, sales of packaged computer programs amounted to only $70 million for the entire year."

This quote provides context for the nascent state of the software industry when Ellison entered it, emphasizing his visionary approach.

The Cowboy Era of Software

  • The 1970s and before were referred to as the "cowboy era of software."
  • Larry Ellison is presented as a controversial figure who entered the software industry with little experience and a willingness to do whatever it took to succeed.

This kind of cowboy era of software in the 1970s and before that.

The quote sets the historical context for the emergence of individuals like Larry Ellison in the software industry, highlighting the lack of regulation and the freewheeling nature of the industry at the time.

Larry Ellison's Ethical Approach

  • Larry Ellison is acknowledged for his intelligence and success but is also noted for being ethically flexible and comfortable with misleading others.
  • His approach to business and ethics is contrasted with that of other industry leaders.

Into this ethical void strode Larry Ellison, a man who misled people about his past had precious little experience in business and was prepared to do whatever it took to achieve success.

This quote illustrates Ellison's entry into the business world, emphasizing his lack of experience and questionable ethics as he sought success.

HP's Founding Values

  • Bill Hewlett and David Packard founded HP with values such as employee opportunity, societal contribution, quality products, customer satisfaction, and profitability.
  • Their approach to business became known as the "HP way."

So it says they believe the company should provide opportunity and security to employees, contribute to the betterment of society, build first-rate products, satisfy customers, and make money.

This quote summarizes the core values that guided HP's founders in their business practices.

The Oracle Way

  • The "Oracle way," if it existed, focused solely on winning, with less emphasis on the means to that end.
  • Larry Ellison did not establish a strong ethical or cultural compass for Oracle, unlike the "HP way."

Larry Ellison's vision was narrower. The oracle way, to the extent that such a thing existed, was simply to win. How that goal was achieved was secondary.

This quote contrasts the Oracle way with the HP way, highlighting Ellison's singular focus on winning above all else.

Larry Ellison's Personal Myths

  • Ellison is described as a storyteller who embellished his life story and realities to make them more interesting.
  • Despite his storytelling, Ellison's narratives were seen as positive and optimistic.

Ellison lived partly in a world of his own invention... When reality was not interesting enough for him, he simply made up delightful and often plausible details as he went along.

This quote reveals Ellison's tendency to create personal myths and reshape his reality to be more engaging and positive.

Larry Ellison's Charisma

  • Ellison is noted for his self-centered nature but also for his ability to show concern for friends.
  • His charisma is likened to that of a cult leader, attracting people despite his flaws.

Ellison was generally self-centered... but he was also capable of showing great concern and tenderness for his friends.

The quote captures the duality of Ellison's personality, showing both self-centeredness and the capacity for empathy.

Ellison's Impact on Relationships

  • Ellison's intense but fleeting relationships left lasting impressions on friends, who still held affection for him years later.
  • His charisma and personality had a significant impact on those around him, including ex-wives and friends.

You have to understand, Coleman said. I love the guy. You always had a good time with Larry.

This quote emphasizes the strong, positive impact Ellison had on people's lives, despite the transient nature of his relationships.

Ellison's Inspirations and Comparisons

  • Ellison admired historical figures like Winston Churchill and Napoleon, drawing inspiration from their lives.
  • He identified with Churchill's wit, curiosity, charm, and moments of insecurity.

Ellison often said that the 20th-century figure he admired most was Winston Churchill... Despite Ellison's constant public posturing, he was also, like Churchill, fundamentally shy.

The quote highlights the similarities Ellison perceived between himself and Churchill, including their shared insecurities and public personas.

Early Struggles and Ambitions

  • Ellison's early life was marked by financial struggles and a strong self-critical sense.
  • His ex-wife, Ada Quinn, described him as having high aspirations and a vision for success, despite a lack of clear direction at the time.

He said to me, if you stay with me, I will become a millionaire and you can have anything you want.

This quote reflects a pivotal moment when Ellison expressed a sudden and confident vision of future success to his then-wife.

Ellison's Intensity and Intelligence

  • Ellison is characterized by his ex-wife as having exceptional intelligence and intensity.
  • His relentless drive and energy were both admired and found exhausting by those closest to him.

He has incredible intelligence and he applies it with incredible intensity.

This quote succinctly captures the essence of Ellison's approach to life and business, emphasizing his relentless application of intelligence.

The Charismatic Leader at Work

  • Ellison's charisma extended to his professional life, where he was described as endlessly talkative and engaging with everyone.
  • His ability to inspire and lead was evident early in his career, even before the founding of Oracle.

There was, Stuart said, an aura about him, a powerful sense of possibility.

The quote conveys the magnetic presence Ellison had, which inspired a sense of potential and drew people to him.

The Partnership of Ellison and Miner

  • Bob Miner, Ellison's partner in founding Oracle, was the antithesis of Ellison but recognized his potential.
  • The partnership thrived with Miner handling the technical side and Ellison bringing in talent and customers.

Miner could see that he was also smart and shrewd and fiercely determined... Ellison was sizzle and Minor was steak.

This quote explains the dynamic between Ellison and Miner, with Miner appreciating Ellison's qualities and their complementary roles in the company.

Relationship Dynamics at Oracle

  • Larry Ellison and Bob Miner had a symbiotic relationship at Oracle.
  • Miner was modest, inward, and honest, contrasting Ellison's aggressive sales tactics.
  • Ellison viewed Oracle as a mission, while Miner saw it as a job.
  • Miner was one of the few who respected Ellison and tolerated his behavior for a long time.

"Bob Miner could never have created Oracle Corporation by himself. He couldn't have sold software the way Ellison did." "For Ellison, Oracle was a holy mission for minor. It was always just a job." "Too few people, liked and respected, enjoyed Larry Ellison more than miner did."

These quotes highlight the complementary partnership between Ellison and Miner, with Miner's technical expertise and Ellison's business acumen being crucial for Oracle's success. It also reflects the different motivations and attitudes towards the company between the two men.

Larry Ellison's Business Philosophy

  • Ellison's approach was to find a way or make one, exemplified by him smashing a wall to connect computer terminals.
  • The anecdote reflects his philosophy of taking direct action and solving problems immediately.

"Find a way or make one. Just do it."

This quote summarizes Ellison's proactive and solution-oriented mindset, which became a core principle of his business strategy, emphasizing the importance of taking bold actions to overcome obstacles.

Oracle vs. IBM

  • Oracle capitalized on IBM's slow pace to market with a relational database product.
  • IBM's bureaucracy hindered its speed, allowing Oracle to gain market share.
  • The idea of seizing opportunities quickly was a key factor in Oracle's early success.

"Oracle prioritized speed, right? While IBM moseyed along, Ellison was out there gobbling up market share."

The quote illustrates Oracle's strategic advantage in being nimble and quick to market, which was a stark contrast to IBM's sluggishness due to its bureaucratic structure. This speed allowed Oracle to establish a strong market presence early on.

Bias for Action

  • Larry Ellison shared a bias for action with other successful entrepreneurs like Sam Walton and Jeff Bezos.
  • Ellison's success was not just being at the right place at the right time; it was about seizing opportunities.

"You should have a bias for action, and then you stay determined."

This quote ties into the broader entrepreneurial principle of taking decisive action and maintaining determination, which was a shared trait among successful business figures and played a significant role in Oracle's growth.

Market Share Strategy

  • Ellison understood the importance of quickly securing a large market share.
  • Once a market is established, gaining additional share becomes costly and difficult.
  • Oracle's aggressive expansion was aimed at establishing a dominant position early.

"If we don't run as hard as we can, as fast as we can, and then do it again twice as fast, it'll be cost prohibitive for us to increase market share."

The quote reflects Ellison's urgency in expanding Oracle's market share before the market became too competitive, indicating a strategic approach to business growth that emphasizes speed and aggression.

High Standards and Intimidation

  • Ellison demanded excellence and had high expectations for his team.
  • He was known for being intimidating and not forgiving mediocrity.
  • Ellison's management style was compared to that of demanding sports coaches.

"Ellison often erupted when someone did something he did not like or said something he considered stupid."

This quote gives insight into Ellison's management style, which involved direct confrontation and high demands, aiming to foster an environment where only the best performance was acceptable.

Personal Sacrifice for Oracle

  • Ellison was willing to make any sacrifice for Oracle, even at the expense of personal relationships.
  • His dedication to the company was paramount, and he expected the same from others.
  • Ellison's attitude towards sacrifice was akin to that of a professional athlete.

"If this thing doesn't work out, don't expect me to stick around."

The quote exemplifies Ellison's extreme commitment to Oracle's success, to the point of being willing to leave behind personal relationships if necessary. It underscores the level of dedication Ellison believed was required to succeed in business.

Oracle's Surprising Growth

  • Oracle's rapid growth exceeded even Ellison's initial expectations.
  • The company's expansion was a surprise to Ellison, who originally envisioned a smaller operation.

"Bob and I never figured we would ever need more than 50 people to do everything we wanted to do."

This quote captures the unexpected scale of Oracle's growth from Ellison's perspective, indicating that the company's success surpassed the founders' original vision.

Time Management and Prioritization

  • Ellison focused on a few important tasks rather than trying to do everything.
  • He believed that concentrating on key areas was essential for success.
  • This approach to time management and prioritization was part of Oracle's strategy.

"My view is that there are only a handful of things that are really important, and you devote all of your time to those things and forget everything else."

The quote reveals Ellison's philosophy on productivity, emphasizing the importance of focusing on critical tasks and ignoring less important ones, which he believed would lead to greater effectiveness and success.

Management by Ridicule

  • Ellison admitted to a harsh management style in Oracle's early days, known as "management by ridicule."
  • He expressed regret for his past approach, acknowledging its brutality.

"I was completely intolerant of a lack of effort and it was fairly brutal in the way I expressed myself."

This quote provides a candid reflection from Ellison on his early management practices, acknowledging the harshness of his approach and its impact on the company culture.

Understanding Larry Ellison Through Childhood Friends and Gambling Metaphors

  • Larry Ellison's approach to business and risk-taking is likened to gambling, as described by his childhood friend Dennis Coleman.
  • Oracle faced a significant challenge when they had to restate earnings due to prematurely recognized revenue, leading to a loss and a stock price hit.
  • Ellison's response to adversity is characterized by pushing limits and a willingness to "bet the house" multiple times.

"His childhood friend Dennis Coleman once said of him, Larry was always the kind of guy who would take it to the limit and then some bet the house and then bet the house again."

The quote illustrates Ellison's risk-taking nature, as recounted by a childhood friend, highlighting his propensity to push boundaries in business decisions.

Oracle's Fiscal Challenges and Strategic Decisions

  • During a fiscal underperformance, Ellison projected confidence to the financial community, promising a recovery in the following quarter.
  • Ellison's strategy was compared to doubling down on a lost poker hand, indicating a high-risk approach to overcoming setbacks.
  • Despite unanimous advice to sell equity, Ellison chose to borrow money, demonstrating his belief in the future value of Oracle's equity.

"Every single one of his advisors told him, sell equity, sell equity, sell equity. And Larry just had a fundamental belief that there'd be a mistake because the equity is going to be worth a lot more in the future."

This quote captures the advice given to Ellison to sell equity to raise funds and his decision to go against this consensus due to his belief in the long-term value of Oracle.

Oracle's Financial Strategy and Team Dynamics

  • Oracle raised a substantial line of credit from a syndicate of banks to sustain the company, showcasing Ellison's ability to secure funding despite challenges.
  • Larry Ellison's worldview is binary, seeing people as either allies or adversaries, with no middle ground.
  • Ellison's relentless optimism is highlighted as a key trait, even during Oracle's largest loss and a 75% stock drop.

"A syndicate of 13 American and international banks, through which they arranged a $250,000,000 line of credit that would be enough to sustain the company until the next crisis."

This quote describes the successful financial maneuver orchestrated by Ellison and his treasurer to secure a significant line of credit to support Oracle during a difficult period.

Emotional Resilience and Personal Struggles

  • Ellison's emotional resilience is evident in a personal anecdote where he remains optimistic despite visible emotional pain.
  • Barbara, Ellison's wife at the time, revealed that Ellison feared failure, which would confirm his father's negative predictions about him.
  • Ellison's personal enthusiasm is described as infectious, with a fellow board member highlighting his intense curiosity and energy.

"He lived in the future. Part of him believed that Oracle was already fixed, but the part of him that Cohen could see didn't look so good."

This quote encapsulates Ellison's forward-looking optimism and his ability to envision a successful outcome for Oracle, despite current hardships.

Board Dynamics and Leadership

  • Ellison's leadership style is described as demanding, with a focus on winning and a willingness to listen to those dedicated to success.
  • A disagreement over hiring a CFO showcases Ellison's resistance to traditional finance expertise, yet his eventual concession to the board's recommendation.
  • Jeff Henley's appointment as CFO brought common sense to Oracle's financial practices, leading to significant improvements and Ellison's admission of a prior misjudgment.

"The early days of Oracle, they lacked common sense. Henley restored that."

This quote highlights the impact of Jeff Henley's financial leadership at Oracle, bringing rationality and improved practices to the company's operations.

Ellison's Competitive Nature and Friendship with Steve Jobs

  • Ellison is characterized as highly competitive, except in his relationship with Steve Jobs, whom he admired greatly.
  • The friendship between Ellison and Jobs is portrayed as deep and emotionally significant, with Ellison taking pride in Jobs' achievements as if they were his own.
  • Ellison's charisma and influence are compared to that of Steve Jobs, with both men holding high standards and a desire to create greatness.

"I'm very competitive, and sometimes when somebody does something really great, I get upset because I feel like that isn't me, Ellison said."

This quote reveals Ellison's competitive drive and his unique reaction to Steve Jobs' success, highlighting a sense of shared accomplishment rather than rivalry.

Work, Love, and the Pursuit of Happiness

  • Ellison speaks about the importance of love and work in achieving happiness, suggesting a balance between personal relationships and professional creation.
  • He emphasizes the need for his son, and by extension everyone, to engage in an "enlightened pursuit of happiness" by finding meaningful work and building relationships.

"The only things that are as important in our lives are love and work, not necessarily in that order. We work because work is an act of creation."

This quote reflects Ellison's philosophy on the two pillars of a fulfilling life: love and work, and their role in creating happiness and a sense of identity.

Conclusion and Book Recommendation

  • The podcast concludes with a recommendation to read the book for more detailed insights into Oracle's first 20 years.
  • The host encourages listeners to support the podcast by using the provided link to purchase the book.

"That is 127 books down, 1000 to go. If you buy the book using the link that's in the show, you'll be supporting the podcast at the same time."

This quote serves as a closing remark, promoting the book covered in the podcast and inviting listeners to support the podcast through their purchase.

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