Oracle, with annual revenue of over $26 Billion and employing over 135,000 people, has become one of the largest database software and technology companies in the world. How did a man who dropped out of college twice and who was told “he is good for nothing”, ended up creating a life that only 0.000036 % of the world’s population belong to.
Larry Ellison story starts in one of the darkest times in human history, world is at War, approximately six million Jews and 5 million others were targeted for racial, political, ideological and behavioral reasons. When some Jews tried to flee the Nazi regime, the American government and the public did not want to accept them. They worried that accepting refugees would put citizens at risk. Luckily a Jewish woman who already lived in America did not have to return to Europe, but she had to live in a place where Jews were not welcomed.
Florence Spellman was safe from Nazis in the Bronx, but she had her own battle: giving birth to a baby outside of wedlock. Keeping in mind this is the 1940s, only 3.8% of all U.S. births were to unmarried women. Florence gave birth to Ellison in 1944 in the Bronx, when Ellison was 9 months he contracted pneumonia and his mother had to send him to his aunt and uncle, Lillian and Louis Ellison. The family Ellison was now in, was poor, he grew up in a Jewish reformed family in Chicago. While his adoptive mother was warm and loving, Ellison described his adoptive father as cold, his father would repeatedly tell him that he was good for nothing. Ellison grew up in Chicago’s South Side, as ambitious as he is today his passion was not seen in his teenage years. After graduating highschool Ellison went to the University of Illinois. In Illinois, he was named science student of the year, but sadly in his second year he heard the sad news, his loving adoptive mother had passed away. This affected him deeply, for a man whose birth mother gave him for adoption, losing his loving adopted mother was not easy for Ellison, he could no longer concentrate on his studies and decided to drop out. He later enrolled at the University of Chicago but dropped out after the first semester.
At 22 Ellison moved to Berkeley, California, a place where the tech was taking off. He worked at companies like Wells Fargo and Amdahl. Along the way, he learned programming skills.
“I never took a computer science class in my life. I got a job working as a programmer; I was largely self-taught. I just picked up a book and started programming.” — Larry Ellison
Ellison kept improving his programming skills as he bounced from job to job. The turning point came when Ellison found himself working for Ampex, where he had a contract to build a database for the CIA codenamed “Oracle” In 1977, he and two coworkers left Ampex to start a database management company, Software Development Laboratories.
The company started with $2,000 of funding, of which $1,200 was from Ellison’s own pocket. The companies office was located in the same space as venture capitalists, which provided tremendous networking. Ellison knew the power of branding and leveraged it over lunches, and casual encounters on daily basis. Nine years after launching their company from a 900 SQFT office, Oracle went public, reporting revenue of $55 million. But then the company started booking their sales in advance which resulted in wrong numbers, causing lawsuits. Oracle had to lay off 10% of its workforce, because of what Ellison later described as “an incredible business mistake.”
From there it did not get any better, as the company was recovering from their mistake, the dot com bubble was near. Oracle was on the verge of bankruptcy. As time went by new tech companies were emerging and Oracle was there to provide a safe and secure database. Ellison started investing in startups, one of the companies he invested in is now reportedly worth $200 Billion, founded by one of his protégé- salesforce.com. By 2007 Oracle had 275,000 customers worldwide hitting a whopping $18 Billion in revenue.
In 2014, Ellison officially stepped down as Oracle CEO, handing controls over to Hurd and Katz, who became co-CEOs. Ellison now serves as the company’s chairman and chief technology officer.
“When I started Oracle, what I wanted to do was to create an environment where I would enjoy working” — Larry Ellison
For a boy who grew up in times when his religious believes were not welcomed in the country, whose dad told him he is not good for anything, who lost two mothers, has come a long way. If it was not for him to pick up a book and learn coding, he would not have been where he is today.