Larry Ellison Closes a Historic Chapter

The Oracle CEO and masterful strategist and deal maker is stepping down

The news that Larry Ellison was retiring from his role as CEO of Oracle came as a surprise although hindsight has provided clues aplenty for observers commenting on the affair. When the boss of one of the world’s largest enterprise software leaders decides to focus on sailing instead of attending his scheduled speech at an enormous annual conference then the writing is probably on the wall, they say. Others note his age, 70, and see a totem.

But Lawrence J. Ellison has always danced to his own tune. His devil-may-care attitude has served up gossip in large dollops but this has always been matched by huge respect from peers and rivals. He is regarded in his own life as an astounding, almost mythical, Gatsby-like character. It’s not going too far to say that his stepping down closes a chapter in Silicon Valley and US software history that incorporated Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Scott McNealy and other luminous characters.

Stories of Ellison’s swashbuckling life are legion, many of them surely apocryphal and a few libellous. But his real contribution lies not in the fast cars, jets and big houses but in his career as a masterful builder of modern software enterprises.

A capsule summary of his career will say that he built the world’s most successful database company, sustaining its success through extraordinary deal making that changed the negative perception of mergers and acquisitions in the industry. He was also a guiding hand, enabler and funding provider for several others, notably Pillar Data and NetSuite.

Such was Ellison’s power and persuasiveness that he created a new generation of company founders and CEOs from those he worked with. The likes of CEO Marc Benioff were cast in his image.

It’s hard to imagine Oracle without Ellison’s leadership but with his long-term deputy Safra Catz and former HP CEO Mark Hurd sharing duties, the old knock that he would not allow powerful figures in his cadre is given the lie.

Bill Gates has shown that there is work to be done after running one of the world’s largest organisations - often more important work too. Ellison has long pursued a fascination with science and he is extraordinarily wealthy; it will be fascinating to watch his next steps.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect