Oracle founder and all-around Silicon Valley legend Larry Ellison is stepping down as CEO of the world’s most frighteningly powerful database company after 37 years at the helm. And though this is largely ceremonial—he will no doubt continue to run Oracle for the rest of his life and from beyond the grave—it provides a good excuse to remember the man’s most colorful moments. If that’s the right term.
Ellison flies jets, races yachts, and collects samurai swords. He sics private detectives on the competition. He wants to live forever. The myths about the man are myriad, and though not all are true, there are plenty that are 100 percent Larry Ellison, a man willing to do whatever it takes to get whatever he wants.
If you’ve never seen him in action, take a look at the classic video above, just for a small taste. Shot at a meeting of Silicon Valley’s Churchill Club in 2009, it shows that wonderful moment when Larry unloaded on the entire cloud computing industry, an industry threatening to overturn his Oracle empire. He told the world that calling Google a cloud made no sense whatsoever. “What do you think Google runs on, water vapor?” he said. Then, not too long after that, Oracle started selling stuff that it called a cloud.
But that’s one of his tamer moments:
Hires Privates Eyes to Go Through Microsoft’s Garbage
When the Justice Department filed its massive antitrust suit against Microsoft in 1998, Ellison and company hired the private investigation firm Investigation Group International to dig up dirt on its rival, Oracle later admitted. The firm’s most famous move: paying janitors for access to garbage thrown out by Redmond’s allies, which actually turned up evidence against Bill Gates and company.
And Hires Some More
And then he did again. In 2010, Oracle paid private investors to track down Leo Apotheker, then the CEO of HP. Oracle had subpoenaed Apotheker, the former boss of SAP, as part of its $1.3 billion intellectual property lawsuit against its arch rival. But the move was more an act of petty revenge than anything else. Before hiring Apotheker, HP had booted Ellison tennis buddy Mark Hurd, following a sexual harassment and expense report scandal, and Ellison never forgave the company. In fact, he promptly hired Hurd, who is now co-CEO of Oracle.
Defends the NSA, But Calls Google ‘Absolutely Evil’
Last year, Ellison told CBS that the NSA’s massive surveillance program is “absolutely essential,” but that Google’s use of the Java virtual machine in the Android operating system was “absolutely evil.”
Oracle is locked in an outrageous legal battle with Google over Android, with Ellison and company claiming that Google pilfered Oracle intellectual property in cloning its Java programming language APIs—or application programming interfaces. If the courts rule in Oracle’s favor, it could end up destroying computer programming as we know it.
Cancels Benioff’s Keynote
No, Ellison has never shied away from taking the fight to competitors. But when Oracle canceled Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote at Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference in 2011, it was a low blow even for the King of Oracle. Though Benioff has often criticized Oracle for selling “false cloud” products, Salesforce.com has always been a major Oracle customer—and Oracle is an investor in the company. Benioff may have gotten the last laugh, though. He delivered his keynote to a packed crowd at a nearby restaurant instead, and probably got more publicity than he would have otherwise.
Tries to Cheat Death
Ellison’s ambitions in business are matched perhaps only by his ambitions in life. Yes, he wants to live forever. One of Ellison’s only known philanthropic causes is the Ellison Medical Foundation, a biomedical research organization dedicated to life extension. Cryogenic Larry will happen. Count on it.
And Just Plain Cheats
But first, he’ll cheat in other ways. Last year, his yachting team admitted to cheating in the run up to the America’s Cup, but then it went on to win the cup, with the Oracle CEO skipping out on his own Oracle World keynote speech in order to witness this inevitable triumph. That is Larry Ellison.