Lunching With Larry Ellison
In the tranquil setting of Larry Ellison's 40-acre Woodside, Calif., estate, the Oracle chief executive discusses why he still runs the company he founded in 1977, what he thinks of Google and Microsoft, and how he measures his own success.

FORBES. Victoria Murphy Barret, 07.27.06, 6:00 PM ET. San Francisco - Just a few years ago, you said Oracle could grow without acquisitions. What changed?

Ellison: I saw that we needed to grow, but our top line wasn't growing, so we had to find other ways to grow the business. We had to reshape our business and acquire share in a nonconventional way. But most tech leaders don't come out of a business background. They really have a very parochial point of view. All they know are the go-go years of Silicon Valley. That's the environment in which they were raised.

You have to take a broader view and realize this is an industry like any other--telecom, railroads. They went through consolidation. Why shouldn't the computer industry be any different?

This shouldn't have been a surprise to anybody. But it seemed to be, and a lot of people thought I was nuts when I said these things. And that's why we're out there alone as a consolidator.

Does this stage in Oracle's life excite you?

Of course.



When you didn't show up at the big Oracle event in San Francisco earlier this year, people in the crowd wondered: Is Larry checked out of Oracle?

I had pneumonia.

People thought it was a sign that you were checked out. That was the perception.

Actually, that I don't care about.

I've run engineering since day one at Oracle, and I still run engineering. I hold meetings every week with the database team, the middleware team, the applications team. I run engineering, and I will do that until the board throws me out of there.

I'm also involved with all of the acquisitions and overall strategy. Now it's true, I don't run operations. But I've never really run operations. I've never had the endurance to run sales. The whole idea of selling to the customer just isn't my personality. I'm an engineer-- tell me why something isn't working or is, and I'm curious.

Do you decide which features will end up in Oracle's customer tracking software?

Some of them, but not all. If you do a feature list of 250, no. If you do a feature list of three, absolutely, yes.

You are very involved, certainly on the product side.

I think about the business all the time. Well, I shouldn't say all the time. I don't think about it when I'm wakeboarding. But even when I'm on vacation, or on my boat, I'm on e-mail every day. I'm always prowling around the Internet looking at what our competitors are doing.

In some ways, getting away from headquarters and having a little time to reflect allows you to find errors in your strategy. You get to rethink things. Often, that helps me correct a mistake that I made or someone else is about to make. I'd rather be wrong than do something wrong.

So how do you push something through at Oracle, like enterprise search?

We have Monday meetings for all of the product division heads--two meetings on Monday. One is the field, if you will, and financial. We look at where we are in the quarter. [At the] second meeting are all of the product guys. I chair that meeting. We review everything that's going on. Then on Tuesday, we have a product division meeting dedicated to database technology.

You bring your ideas to those meetings.

Yes. And there are usually very few things that I care about. Grid computing, we started working on 13 years ago; secure enterprise search. There are a handful of things that we will really differentiate on to separate us from our competitors. But there aren't a lot of these major initiatives.

Google has had one or two good ideas. Searching the Internet, right, and then selling ads. That's a complete list of everything clever they've ever done.

They're young.

They're a one-trick pony, but it's a hell of a trick.

Their market cap certainly indicates that.

It is just amazing. Advertising is a hell of a business.

Microsoft's new revenue model might be ads.

I think that is ridiculous. It is hard to believe that Microsoft has Google envy. We're in the software business--we don't do ads. We're not going to sell ads on top of our database.

What will you do with Oracle's cash?

We can buy back our stock. We can buy…I'll give you a list. We can buy BEA and buy our stock back. Buy a lot of our stock back and buy Business Objects. Buy a lot of our stock back and buy somebody else.

If we publish that, BEA's stock will jump, like Novell did recently after you expressed interest publicly.

Yes, open source, that's another topic. I'm not sure they understood what I said.

They were certainly paying attention.

Oh yes, they paid attention. But what I said was that the interesting thing about open source is that the intellectual property is available to all of us. So what that means is that any company can take the Red Hat Linux and use it at no cost, so long as they're willing to support themselves.

Well, that actually includes us. We could take the Red Hat Linux, as long as we're willing to support it. In fact, we can redistribute it to others and provide support. So why would we buy Red Hat Linux, when we can just take it for nothing?

In open source, your innovation is quickly your rival's.

Exactly. It's like Fort Knox, except everyone has the keys and takes whatever gold they want whenever they want it.

Let's say you win the upcoming America's Cup. Is that the last one you'll compete in? Game over, done, you won.

No, no. We'll bring it to San Francisco, and we'll probably race it the year right after. I love sailing. I like it more when I'm winning.

But if you did it again, you'd risk losing.

Yes. And I'd do it right away. I wouldn't hold on to the cup for [the standard] four years. I'd race right away. Sail while I'm still young.

You seem like someone who is never quite done with things. Acquisition spree, bigger house, bigger boat ...

I am actually building another smaller boat. I love Rising Sun. It is perfect in the port of Monaco for the Grand Prix.

Why downsize?

I just like the feel of the smaller boat. I think I made a mistake, making Rising Sun so big. It is one and a half football fields long.

You can't dock that anywhere.

Not in Monaco. But usually, we're never at the dock. A lot of people do. They have parties. They want to be seen.

How do you measure your success at this point?

That's an interesting one. Probably how happy I am.

What goes into that?

So what makes me happy? I was really happy to build this house. That's it. Building things. The trouble with software is that it is very hard to show your aunt in Florida what you've done. But what do you think of this building? 'Ah, it's beautiful, I love it. You did such a good job.' Thank you!

It's there.

You can touch it. I do like building companies.

Building Oracle is like doing math puzzles as a kid. I was vehemently against acquisitions. Now, let's buy everything in sight. Well, that's a slight exaggeration. We're a little more strategic than that. But everything was on sale.

I love problem solving. How to make the closet bigger in the house I'm designing. I know, it sounds funny. SAP is twice as big. Now, there's no growth--what do we do? It's all problem solving. Designing, building, problem-solving.

When you were younger, you measured your success monetarily, right?

Being first is more important to me. I have so much more money. Whatever money is, it's just a method of keeping score now. I mean, I certainly don't need more money.