Business Biography: Lawrence Joseph Ellison

Business Biography

Lawrence Joseph Ellison, popularly known as Larry Ellison was born in New York City, USA, on the 17th of August, 1944 to a single Jewish mother. When he was nine months old, Ellison contracted pneumonia. His inexperienced mother had nothing else to do but to give him over to her uncle and aunt for adoption so they could better care for him. He would not see his mother again for the next 48 years, and he never knew he was adopted until he was 12. According to Ellison, his adoptive father was hard and strict, and over the years there would be several confrontations between the both of them. His adoptive mother on the other hand was warm and loving.

Ellison attended the Eugene Field Elementary School in Chicago and later went to Sullivan High School. He enrolled in the University of Illinois but dropped out in his second year, not taking his final exam because of the death of his adoptive mother. His adoptive mother was a source of great inspiration to him and contributed immensely to his education. He later enrolled in the University of Chicago but dropped out again just after one semester. It seemed he had lost the flair completely for education. But during his time at the University of Chicago he had encountered something that would change his story forever; computer design.

In 1966 Ellison left Chicago and moved to California, and for the next 8 years he worked several menial jobs, most having to do with computers. The jobs he did were not highly skilled but he was gathering knowledge and experience that would eventually be useful many years later. It is interesting to know that, at this point of Ellison’s life he never imagined building a company; he only worked just to get by. In 1967, the following year after arriving in California, Ellison married Adda Quin. But the couple would divorce three years later, apparently due to Ellison’s aimlessness and debts. Ellison had a passion for biking and boat riding, and he would often borrow money to finance his hobby while taking pay cuts when changing jobs. Adda was tired. It was during one of their divorce sessions that Ellison declared that he was going to be a millionaire. Adda advised him to go ahead and do it for himself but she was leaving.

In the 1970s Ellison worked for a tech company called Ampex Corporation. One of the projects assigned to him was the building of a database for the CIA. He called the project Oracle. Robert Miner and Edward Oates were his colleagues who assisted him in the writing of the program for the database. The trio would go on to be partners and cofounders of the Oracle Corporation. Ellison left Ampex, and after a brief stint doing sales and marketing for another company he became Vice President of a small company called Precision Instruments co. Precision Instrument was working on projects similar to that of Ampex and needed to hire a contract company to program its software. Ellison convinced his two friends, Robert Miner and Edward Oates, and the trio started their own company called Software Development Laboratories in 1977 which purpose was solely to write programs for Precision Instrument.

While Ellison and his colleagues worked for Precision Instrument they discovered something else. Programmers at IBM were working on a revolutionary database called Relational database. Encyclopedia of World Biography describes it this way,

This was a database that could be queried, or asked to retrieve certain pieces of information. The databases that existed up until then were good at holding information, such as lists of employees and how much money they made. But to find out how many employees, for instance, made more than a certain figure, the user had to go in and look at the data. The relational database, however, could tell the user who made how much money, and even go in and give selected employees a raise. This was what everybody wanted, and IBM programmers figured out how to do this using a simple computer language that could be typed on a keyboard”

The trio saw a great opportunity in this invention, so immediately a paper on Relational database was published in the trade journal they got to work developing their own relational database which they could package properly and sell to any company. They named their program Oracle. They also renamed their company Relational Software Inc (RSI). The company would later be called Oracle Systems Corporation, after its flagship product, the Oracle database.

Year after year Oracle kept making sales, the present year sale surpassing that of the previous year. In 1982 the company employed only a few dozen of people and had a sale of $2.4 million but by 1986 the company’s revenue had skyrocketed to $55 million dollars with Ellison stake in the company valued at $90 million. That same year the company became a publicly traded company. Oracle database had become extremely popular and valuable; it was the number one software for hotels, airlines, chain stores and large manufacturers. It was practically indispensable.

Due to Ellison’s exorbitant lifestyle, carefree attitude and managerial inexperience, Oracle Corp. almost went bankrupt in the 1990s. The sales team was posting profits figures that didn’t really exist; they were booking future license sales in the present quarter so as to increase their bonuses. So on paper, the company was making huge profits but in reality the money was not there. When the truth finally came out the company’s stock price fell and Oracle’s board threatened to replace Ellison, but he somehow managed to remain. He however relinquished the managerial aspect of the business to more experienced hands and focused on product development. By mid 1990s the company had righted itself and was starting to make profits again.

In 2010, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystem, which gave them control over the popular MySQL open source database.

Aside from Adda Quin Ellison have been married and divorced three times; Nancy Wheeler Jenkins, Barbara Bothe, and Melanie Craft.

On January 19, 2004, Ellison resigned as Chairman of Oracle but remained as CEO.

Ellison is currently the third richest man in America and the fifth richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $56.2 billion. For a very long time he has had his eyes on the richest man in the world spot and he attempts to reach it through a series of business acquisition to increase his company’s market capitalization. Ellison has donated 1% of his wealth to charity and has signed The Giving Pledge. He has two children.

Be sensitive to opportunities:

In your entrepreneurial journey you will be faced by innumerable number of challenges. Virtually every day or week will have its own peculiar problem. For many people business will seem to move at snail speed, or not moving at all, tempting you to want to quit and close shop. But then, suddenly, unexpectedly, a wonderful opportunity will present itself; an opportunity that can change your business story and life story forever. That big break always definitely comes. The million dollar question is; will you be ready when it comes?

Read through the entrepreneurial stories of many great entrepreneurs, from Steve Jobs to Zhou Quinfei, they endured through difficult and tough periods but then the big break came.

Through the thick clouds of challenges search ceaseless for that silver lining. Be sensitive and ready for life changing opportunities because it would definitely come.

Ellison has been in the software industry for quite some time, from doing menial jobs of backing up data to writing programs. He was just like every other computer geek, until he came across the journal on Relational database and then he ceased the opportunity.

Today, he is known by millions across the world for one thing; the Oracle database, which was built on the Relational database.

Everyone makes mistakes:

Ellison would later describe it as ‘an incredible business mistake’. He thought he was doing the perfect thing, and for a time his strategies seemed to work but only for his sales team to ruin the process by trying to out-profit themselves. Ellison had several promotions that he organized for his team sales where each person is rewarded heavily according to how much sale they make. The rewards were enormous, and with Ellison motivating them every day ‘to go for Gold’ (because sometimes they were rewarded in real gold coins), the sales team went to whatever length to get sales, including recording future sales in the current month or recording sales that the money had not materialized yet.

In any business journey mistakes over mistakes will be made. It doesn’t matter how much mistake is made, what matters most is your reaction/response to it; do you allow it beat you down and push you out, or do you rise up, make necessary changes and forge ahead?

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