While Larry Ellison’s name may sound familiar to many, it doesn’t come with the kind of recognition enjoyed by Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or other top 20th and 21st century tech entrepreneurs. Despite this, Ellison, currently the 7th richest person in the world, played an important role in fundamentally transforming how businesses operate in the modern world.
This is, in part, because Ellison and his company, Oracle Corporation, have always operated firmly in a B2B context, rather than creating consumer products. This means that, while everyone has seen an Oracle logo at some point (if only at work) Ellison’s business activities have rarely made for exciting headlines for the general public. Since its founding, Oracle Corporation has pioneered database technology, cloud computing, and enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), human capital management (HCL), and supply chain management (SCM) software.
The disadvantages necessary for success
When asked about the secret to his success, Ellison likes to say that he had “all the disadvantages necessary for success.” Ellison grew up on the south side of Chicago in an economically declining neighborhood. According to him, this provided him with the personal drive to pursue a better life, which ultimately led him to move to California. After dropping out of college, he pursued his growing passion for programming, which he then turned from a part-time job into a career.
Within a few years, this led him to a position at Ampex, where he worked on a database named “Oracle” for the CIA. After leaving Ampex, he launched Software Development Laboratories in 1977, which would eventually become Oracle.
Computing for the 21st century
Oracle Corporation was a pioneer in database technology from its inception, and it has never backed away from the cutting edge since. In layman’s terms, Oracle transformed how big businesses capture and manage data, and how they are able to use that data to optimise their operations and their supply chains. Along with a few of its competitors, Oracle effectively invented the modern big data driven economy. Over time, they improved this technology and built upon it to pioneer the development of cloud computing, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and secure cloud database technology.
Oracle’s innovative philosophy
In the past 4 decades, Oracle has dominated and bought up its smaller competitors, and held its ground against IBM and Microsoft. Today, Oracle is competing against Amazon to dominate cloud database technology. The secret to the company’s success, according to Ellison, is non-stop innovation, with no room for complacency. This approach ensures that Oracle always has the world’s best technology, with an innovative lead that their nearest competitors can never hope to close. More than simply helping to establish and maintain the company’s dominance, this approach has also helped to shape and launch many of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Oracle is an incubator for entrepreneurs
Oracle has a notable pattern of creating billionaire entrepreneurs. Marc Benioff, Tony Hsieh, Dave DeWalt, Thomas Siebel and many other household names in California’s tech sector launched their careers at Oracle before moving on to found or lead extremely successful businesses themselves. This shows perfectly how Oracle’s push for non-stop innovation and endless improvement has kept it at the top of its industry for decades, and how learning from this type of attitude can empower others to succeed.
What we can learn
Oracle isn’t just any major tech company, it’s an enormous enterprise that has stood the test of time, maintaining its dominant position as an industry leader since its founding in 1977. Throughout that time, it has continued to develop and implement new technologies, effectively acting as the innovative disruptor in the industry it already dominated. For other entrepreneurs, there is an important lesson here.
Attitude is everything
Instead of just consolidating its position in its industry and fending off potential rivals, Oracle has also continuously improved, reinvented, and diversified its products over time. At the core of this philosophy is the drive to keep moving forward, to compete, and to win even when there is no competitor to beat. This powerful drive and urgency for progress is what made, and continues to make Larry Ellison so successful. Witnessing and participating in this is what has given so many of Ellison’s employees, particularly those who worked most closely with him, the drive to become breathtakingly successful entrepreneurs themselves.
For most entrepreneurs, success just means creating a profitable business. For Ellison, it meant taking charge of an entire industry. In doing so, he didn’t just become wealthy or build a business empire. He fundamentally changed the role of data in business, and how big businesses use it to manage their resources. This more comprehensive and ambitious approach allowed him to amass a fortune that overshadowed even other billionaire entrepreneurs by an order of magnitude.