The Oracle of Oracle: The Story of Volatile CEO Larry Ellison and the Strategies behind His Company's Phenomenal Success


"Admired as a visionary leader and brilliant business mind, feared as a ruthless and formidable competitor, and loathed as an egomaniac with an explosive temper, Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison has emerged as one of the most controversial figures in a sea of brilliant, eccentric Silicon Valley luminaries.

But for such a high-profile character, Ellison maintains an enigmatic air, and his superachieving, multimillion-dollar company remains a rarely studied entity. Now, The Oracle of Oracle goes behind the ...

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"Admired as a visionary leader and brilliant business mind, feared as a ruthless and formidable competitor, and loathed as an egomaniac with an explosive temper, Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison has emerged as one of the most controversial figures in a sea of brilliant, eccentric Silicon Valley luminaries.

But for such a high-profile character, Ellison maintains an enigmatic air, and his superachieving, multimillion-dollar company remains a rarely studied entity. Now, The Oracle of Oracle goes behind the scenes to uncover the breakthrough ideas and winning strategies that have propelled Oracle's phenomenal growth and breathtaking success.

The book walks readers through Oracle's fascinating history since its relational database hit the market in 1977, identifying and explaining strategies such as:

Forge ahead and fix weaknesses—lessons from the early 90s when Oracle derailed, but was nursed back to health.

Grow the Oracle way—by making new products, not acquiring new companies.

Crush the competition—it's not enough to succeed; all others must fail.

Sales today make markets tomorrow—tap into the sales force to develop products, promote a vision, beat competitors.

The Oracle of Oracle is an intriguing, illuminating read for entrepreneurs who wonder what it takes to build a world-class company from scratch...for managers and executives who want to integrate Oracle's philosophies and culture into their own...and for business readers who relish an up-close report from the battle zones of the software industry."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Highly competitive, abrasive, hotheaded, and even ruthless, Larry Ellison, the founder and CEO of Oracle, is also one of the most successful businesspeople in the world. Florence M. Stone has analyzed Ellison's amazing career, which took him from a tiny three-person start-up to the helm of a global corporation, and presents her conclusions in this book. If you want to learn how Ellison has accomplished his many miracles, Stone's writing is a great place to begin.
Publishers Weekly
Stone (Coaching, Counseling & Mentoring) sets out to discuss the business strategies that have made Oracle, the world's leading database software company, so successful. And occasionally she succeeds. She points out that Oracle has, from the very beginning, made every effort to lock customers into long-term contracts, both to guarantee a continuing revenue stream and as a way to lock out competitors. She also notes that Oracle Founder Larry Ellison started his company because he learned early on that he could not work for anyone else. However, like most who have written about Ellison, Stone too often gets caught up in talking about his elaborate Japanese-inspired houses, countless cars and seemingly endless socializing. And when she does turn to the business side of the company, most of her commentary tends toward platitudes, such as that the company tries to hire people with "intelligence and ambition" and that it tries to sell by understanding its customers' businesses. There's nothing wrong with those assertions, but they can be said about most companies, as can the fact that the business was built "with chutzpah, ceaseless work, unrelenting optimism, and ruthless determination." More in-depth analysis, which could have come about through firsthand reporting instead of relying heavily on previously published books and articles, would have helped a great deal. The true business story of Oracle has yet to be written. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Larry Ellison is a playboy, sportsman, and founder of Oracle, currently the world's second-largest software company. Oracle, which specializes in managing databases for businesses, has made Ellison one of the ten richest men on earth. Many in the business and software worlds would also consider him a lightweight, a liar, a braggart, a bully, a hypocrite, and a promoter. Stone (Coaching, Counseling and Mentoring) acknowledges Ellison's "P.T. Barnum" factor and admits that she would not want to work for him, yet she respects his business acumen and makes a good case for others to reconsider their appraisal. As befits a publication of the American Management Association (AMACOM), this is less a traditional biography than a management and strategy guide for software companies using Ellison and Oracle as the model. Like most AMACOM titles, it is both well written and well organized, portraying an excellent manager, fine corporate leader, and industry visionary. A good purchase for academic and public library management collections. Patrick J. Brunet, Western Wisconsin Technical Coll. Lib., LaCrosse Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814406397
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Florence Stone (New York, NY) is the author of nine books, including Coaching, Counseling, & Mentoring, The High-Value Manager, and (under the pen name Rebecca Saunders) Business the Way and Business the Dell Way.

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Table of Contents

"1. A Quick History Lesson: Who Is Larry Ellison? What Is Oracle?

2. A View from the Sidelines

3. Fix Weaknesses and Forge Ahead

4. Grow the Oracle Way

5. Crush the Competition

6. Customer Relationships

7. Product Development

8. Sales Today Make Markets Tomorrow

9. Know Your People

10. Build Partnerships

11. Ellison as Oracle, Ellison as Leader

12. Going for the Gold"

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First Chapter

The Oracle of Oracle

By Florence M. Stone


Copyright © 2002 AMACOM
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-0639-4

Chapter One

An Extraordinary Man

Ellison as manager, leader, visionary

The press and public have become so obsessed with Larry Ellison's personality that they ignore three conclusions I have reached after considerable research:

Larry Ellison is an excellent manager.

Larry Ellison is an excellent leader.

Larry Ellison is a visionary able to anticipate the demands of his customers in the future and make them a reality.

Let me add a fourth, which is really an addendum to this chapter yet could easily get lost in talk about Ellison's commitment to his company, his mansions, and MiG jets, let alone his management ability: Ellison is also a philanthropist who has endowed an institution to provide vaccines to combat infectious diseases in the Third World. Called the Ellison Medical Foundation, it also funds research into finding cures for diseases of the elderly. He is also owner of 70 percent of a research firm called Quark Biotech, Inc. with more than 100 PhDs. The firm isn't just commercializing new kinds of gene diagnostics-it is also seeking a cure for cancer. I only recently learned about these two Ellison initiatives. Known for his effort in self-promotion and-more so-promotion of Oracle Corp., Ellison hasn't committed any PR to the foundation bearing his name. Nor does he say much about Quark Biotech, Inc., the Israeli start-up in which he has majority ownership.

What Makes a Good Manager, Leader, and Visionary

To be sure that we are on the same page, let me share my definitions of a good manager, good leader, and good visionary.

A hands-on manager will work with employees to get the work done. A participative manager will meet with employees to determine the tactics they will use to achieve the group's goals. But a manager doesn't have to be participative in style to be a good manager. Autocrats make good managers as well. Indeed, the best managers adapt their style to meet the needs of their employees-it's called situational management. However they supervise, good managers know how to delegate work to others, which, most important, means they know those factors that motivate and use that knowledge to get the highest productivity from workers. Good managers are very focused on the work before them.

Leaders, on the other hand, have a broader perspective. Their focus is on the mission to be achieved. Toward it, they have the ability to influence others to follow them. The secret of good leadership is skill in achieving followership, which means that charisma, though not required, doesn't hurt. Good leaders are decisive, addressing problems as they crop up. In addition, they determine the corporate culture and the values or beliefs that are to be practiced within the organization.

A leader sets the vision, which is different from being visionary. A vision is a clear, consistent course reading for the organization-the purpose for the organization. In sharing that vision or shared wish for the future of the organization, the leader hopes to inspire and motivate all to work toward its achievement. In hard times or times of change, as we are experiencing now, that vision can be a potent weapon against fear-to use another seafarer's analogy, like a rudder, it keeps the corporate ship and its crew on course.

What makes a visionary? In the business world, it's someone who predicts a major direction in which an industry is likely to move. In the case of Larry Ellison, while the tactics have changed, the prediction hasn't. If you separate the ramblings, self-absorbed remarks, and highly entertaining ad libs, his vision for the future is pretty much the same: software applications shared over a network, and hardware designed and priced to serve those needs.

Larry Ellison, Excellent Manager

When you write a book about an executive, you begin with the basics, such as the individual's place of birth, schooling, first business experiences, and so forth. (In fact, those details of Ellison's life are covered in Chapter 1.) Although your focus is on the business side, you begin to learn much more about your subject. So it has been with my study of Larry Ellison. Early on, as I first began to prepare for this book, I knew only about Ellison's pursuit of the good life. Yacht racer, jet pilot, epicure-I had heard him called the "playboy of the wired world." Yet, as I have come to realize, there is a serious side to Ellison-he is, after all, running one of the world's largest software companies and, rightfully, chasing Bill Gates.

Think about it. Microsoft Corp. became a public source of contention in the mid-1990s when Oracle offered the network computer to the marketplace; this was Oracle's way to directly compete with Bill Gates's lordship of the Internet. For the same reason, expect to hear in the future that Ellison has taken on the minions of IBM Corp., as well as Gates, since they now represent a threat to his company in the applications software market. Maybe even Hasso Plattner, CEO of German software developer SAP, will come in for some of Ellison's verbal abuse during a press conference. Already a visit to reveals documents that question IBM's capability to provide Web applications and SAP's talent in hosting sites.

Over the years, Ellison may have made the wrong decision or taken the wrong turn, personally or professionally-who hasn't? Yet throughout his life, since he founded the company that today bears the name Oracle, he has been fully committed to its success.

There is an Ellison story that confirms his reputation as a womanizer yet simultaneously demonstrates the importance of Oracle in the scheme of things. It was just after the 1990 crisis, and Ellison received a telephone call from one of his senior managers. Ellison was asked if the manager had Ellison's approval to terminate his secretary. She had a record of poor performance, and unless Ellison disagreed, her boss planned to fire her the next day. Why was Ellison involved? He was having an affair with the young woman. He told the executive that if she were not performing as expected, then she should be terminated. See, the company came first.

I know you want to know what subsequently happened.

She was fired. Although they had been seeing each other for several months, she sued for sexual harassment, accusing Oracle and Ellison of termination for her decision to end the relationship. Oracle and Ellison came close to losing the case-after all, as Ellison even admitted, such action wasn't smart on the part of any CEO-but she lost her case when she manufactured evidence to prove her harassment charge against him.

Since its founding, Oracle has been more innovative, more efficient, and more directed when Ellison was actively involved in its management.

As mentioned, Ellison isn't a paragon of virtue. But his personal lifestyle is no measure of his management ability. Oracle is the measure of that.

The results should be evident. Oracle is a fantastic company. Like many high-tech firms today, its stock value is being tested by a deepening economic downturn, as are sales by the capital market. However, if Oracle were to experience an economic downturn it couldn't have come at a better time for this company. Oracle has undergone major reinvention and transformation that cut almost $1 billion from its expense line, an effort spearheaded by Ellison in his management/ leadership role as CEO.

As I look over the last twenty-five-plus years since Oracle was launched, I find that historically it has been more innovative, more efficient, and more directed when Ellison was actively involved in its management. Ellison played the lead role in the company's founding, steered it through its early years of rapid growth, and has grown fully into his management role since 1998, when he began transforming Oracle into a Web-based business (see Chapter 8). Many members of the press may think his role insubstantial in the years from Henley's and Lane's appearance (1990 to 1998), but Ellison's importance to the business was blurred by the Barnumesque role he played as spokesperson. Lane, as president, was the inside man, Ellison was the outside man and, as such, he took over a public relations role in addition to resuming the marketing role he had held in the early years of the company when his job was to sell the idea of relational databases.

Larry Ellison, Excellent Leader

Although ultimately Oracle's transformation to an e-business led to the resignation of Ray Lane, Ellison took a hands-on role in not only building an e-business from the former database software company, but also identifying and eliminating inefficiencies within the organization. How did Ellison manage it?

Management for Ellison is about centralized control-yes, with him in charge. He understands positive reinforcement, but if the carrot doesn't work, he'll go for the stick or negative reinforcement. For instance, when he initially asked Oracle's seventy country operations to work with him to consolidate information technology (IT) operations and databases at headquarters, they refused. He told them they could retain their own systems if they paid for them out of their own profits. Since profits are also the basis for bonuses, all country managers except the one for Canada agreed to consolidation. What happened with Canada? The subsidiary dragged its feet even after Ellison had sent an emissary-Gary Roberts, senior vice president of global information Technology-to deliver an ultimatum. When that didn't work, Ellison shuffled management responsibilities. The problem disappeared.

By the end of 2000, the company had eliminated 2,000 server computers scattered around the world. All the company's data are now stored, as Ellison had wanted, on one central database accessible via the Web. This makes for easy accessibility-and not only for the worldwide organization. It makes it easier for Ellison to get a comprehensive view of operations and spot trouble before it gets out of hand. To quote Jeffrey O. Henley, the firm's chief financial officer, "Larry has the people in this company screwed down tight."

Perhaps he overreacted to the inefficiencies he saw, but Ellison personally rewrote sales contracts and established standard pricing to cut down on dickering by the field sales force. He changed the compensation system to prevent more than one salesperson from getting a full commission on a sale. And he compensated country managers for meeting profit margin targets, not simply meeting sales goals at any cost.

In essence, Ellison has resumed a role he held prior to Lane's presidency, a role that with one major mishap-the 1990 near insolvency of Oracle-he had handled well. After the incident Ellison admitted that he could have been a better CEO, more mindful of the numbers than he was. At a time when the workforce needed him to rally the troops, he was at home bandaging his ego for his failure to keep Oracle's growth on its previous upward path. The incident led to a decision that only a tough manager or leader could take. That was a recognition that he lacked the process skills that the company needed as it went through a major growth transition. Rather than contract with consultants who would leave never-read documents with him, he chose to bring on board professional managers to add balance to the entrepreneurial team he had assembled around him, executives like Jeff Henley and Ray Lane.

Although Ellison lacks an MBA in management, he clearly has the instincts of a business leader if you think back to the earlier policies he set and decisions he made for the fledgling Oracle. For one, he took the company international. This is unusual because the industry itself hadn't gone global in the early 1980s. Although Ellison had done no foreign travel, he saw the value that would come from moving Oracle into international markets. At first, the company worked with a distributor in Europe-Tom Peddersen Associates. It was 1984, and the money that came in from overseas sales was needed by the fledgling business. As soon as Oracle had a foothold in the European market, Ellison chose to buy out the distributor, converting all its employees to Oracle staff members. It was a pattern that Oracle used repeatedly to reach customers abroad.

Ellison and Oracle were ahead of other database software companies in adapting and selling products outside the United States. His company was the only one for some time that offered a global solution for multinational firms, enabling it to pursue the largest deals. Using distributors in the beginning was worthwhile because they offered immediate and efficient local support and a local sales presence without the expense of opening a satellite office or creating a subsidiary organization. Ultimately, however, Oracle set up its international operation of country managers. Equally valid as a leader when that international operation demanded tighter controls, he ensured that it happened.

Balancing Sales and Product Development

During those early years, it was Ellison who, despite the role he carved for himself as top salesman, spoke up for balance between sales and product development. Even when the sales organization asked for new products or new versions with useless features to outsell the competition, Ellison stayed the course and was able to say no to members of the sales force and developers, even though it would have been easy for the company at that time to lose its focus-it often happens to entrepreneurial firms. Ellison knew that Oracle wasn't ready to expand to a second product line during those early years. Rather, he saw the worth of continuously updating the versions of the company's flagship product. Ellison created a strong development team under the direction of his partner Bob Miner, and the two men focused research on advancing Oracle's core technology. Sanity prevailed in the development and release process, despite ongoing demands for new releases from the sales force. Miner became the organization's strong technical leader, but he had the backing of the strong CEO, Ellison. Consequently, the company could take advantage of the sales opportunities with which it was presented, but it would not allow itself to become so sales-centric that it lost a sense of its mission.

Ellison determined that the Oracle path to growth would not be by acquisition.

It was also Ellison who determined that the Oracle way to growth would not be by acquisition of technology or of other companies. Generally, young firms on a fast-growth path will opt to buy further growth by acquiring other's technology. Early on, Oracle experimented with a technology acquisition, purchasing a product it called Oracle SQL*Calc. On the surface, the technology seemed like a natural extension to Oracle's offerings, but it was not built the way other Oracle products were built. Consequently, it was difficult for Oracle developers to sustain the product and release new versions.


Excerpted from The Oracle of Oracle by Florence M. Stone Copyright © 2002 by AMACOM. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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