How profitable is the Americas Cup
Crazy about victory
The waves beat heavily against the ship's wall. A stiff breeze whistles along the Costa del Azahar near Valencia throughout the afternoon; now, in the early evening hours, the wind has reached 20 knots and piles the waves of the Mediterranean three or four meters high. Again and again the sailors try to moor the small dinghy to the side of the mother ship and thus enable the passengers to cross over - in vain, the waves are too powerful. Ultimately, the only thing that helps is retreating into a sheltered branch of the industrial port of Valencia. There the transfer finally succeeds.
The destination is the "Rising Sun", one of the largest private yachts in the world. And one of the most expensive. It is owned by Larry Ellison, founder of the software company Oracle. Ellison has never let journalists on his floating vacation home before. Today he makes an exception. Larry Ellison, tanned, relatively slim, muscular, doesn't look 61. He doesn't act like that either.
“Larry, you are considered a playboy, a loudmouth, a moody despot, your ego has to be transported by forklift. How do you live with such a reputation? "
His green-gray eyes fixate on the person opposite. “You're kidding,” he says sharply, “I'm hearing that for the first time!” A second of silence passes, another. Only the whistling of the wind and the clapping of the waves can be heard on the conference deck of the "Rising Sun". Then laughter bursts out of him. He's in a good mood today.
“Nobody likes to read negative things about themselves. But you get used to it when you are in public. I try not to read much of what is written about myself anymore. And when someone writes something positive, I don't take it too seriously, otherwise I would have to take the negative things seriously too. "
"Has your reputation ever proven to be an obstacle when it comes to business?"
“He probably had little influence. I basically don't believe that people buy Oracle software or not because of me. As a rule, these are rational decisions that are made solely on the basis of product quality, price and service. "
Indeed, despite or because of his personality, Larry Ellison built his company into the largest database house in the world. In fiscal year 2004/05, Oracle had around 50,000 employees and had sales of almost twelve billion dollars. On the stock exchange, the manufacturer of databases and business software is worth $ 64 billion. Only Microsoft is bigger.
Since founding Oracle 29 years ago, Larry Ellison has built a reputation as one of Silicon Valley's visionaries. For example, he recognized the importance of the Internet as early as 1995. He consistently aligned the strategy and products of Oracle with it. Competitors such as Microsoft or SAP did not follow until years later. Ellison is used to thinking in long cycles. What drives the self-made man above all else is the fact that he is “crazy about victory” by his own admission.
In the unconditional will to win, he is sometimes compared to Genghis Khan, whose maxim it was that not only he himself had to win, but everyone else had to kindly lose too. “Everyone else must fail” is the title of one of the four biographies published about Ellison, and “Softwar” is another. And: "The difference between God and Larry Ellison". The author reveals what the difference is in the subtitle: "God doesn't think he's Larry Ellison."
In fact, contemporary witnesses attest Ellison's increased self-confidence from childhood. Immediately after his birth in 1944, his underage mother handed him over to her aunt and disappeared; Ellison was only to get to know his mother at the age of 47. He grew up in modest circumstances in Chicago. His stepfather, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, constantly accused him of being a good-for-nothing. Since then, Larry Ellison has been trying to prove to the world that nothing is impossible. The death of the adoptive mother threw him off course, he broke off his studies in natural sciences and drove to California in his turquoise Ford Thunderbird because he had read a book about the IT landscape that was blossoming there. Until he was 35 years old, he was more or less drifting through life. At Omex Corporation he specialized in databases and set up one for the CIA under the project name “Oracle”. In 1977, he and two colleagues founded SDL, which he renamed Oracle in 1983.
“Larry, you quit your studies to make your way as a programmer in Silicon Valley. What training does it take to be successful as an entrepreneur? "
“Our education system rewards a degree of conformity. Teachers want their questions to be answered with the answers they gave themselves. The students are encouraged to listen carefully instead of thinking for themselves. "
He speaks clearly, pointedly, almost ready for printing. He seldom breaks off a sentence, and when he does, it is mostly to make it even sharper.
"Is that why so many successful IT companies like Microsoft, Apple or Oracle were founded by dropouts?"
“The secret of business success is to find mistakes in textbook wisdom. The quickest way to get out of college is to question textbook wisdom. Galileo Galilei would have failed his astronomy exam. When it comes to innovation, education doesn't help much. Only if you think for yourself can you find mistakes and approach traditional things in a new, better way. "
This is Larry Ellison when he's in good spirits. If he is in a bad mood, he has no qualms about yelling at the other person or simply leaving them where they are. The mood can change quickly.
Going to the limit is Ellison's main motivation, in business as well as in private. In 1995 he broke his neck and tore his lungs while surfing off Hawaii. While mountain biking, he broke his arm and elbow several times. In 1998 he took part in the “Sayonara” in the Sydney – Hobart race, one of the most demanding sailing races in the world. Ellison's team was in the lead when a severe storm hit. In order not to miss the victory, he forced his crew to sail through the storm. The Sayonara was badly damaged, but Ellison won the prestigious race.
Such daring also brought Ellison entrepreneurial success and made him a billionaire. “I was once poor, now I am rich. Being rich is definitely the better way of life. ”According to Forbes, his fortune amounted to 18.4 billion dollars in 2005. This puts him in ninth place on the list of the richest in the world. In 2000 he was even number one for a short time.
"Larry, is your goal still to be the richest person in the world again?"
“That was never my goal. I don't think anyone in their right mind would want something like this. It is linked to a curse. "
Of course, money makes you sexy: the 61-year-old is said to have countless women’s stories. He is now married for the fourth time; his wife Melanie Craft, a novelist, is a quarter of a century younger than him. He has two children from a previous marriage, Megan, 19, and David, 22, whom he visits regularly in Malibu, where the two of them advance their film careers.
Ellison has never shied away from spending money. The house he had built a few years ago in the hills of Woodside, California, even sets standards for spaciousness and eccentricity for spoiled Silicon Valley. Lakes with islands, bridges, waterfalls and a huge Japanese garden cover an area the size of 23 soccer fields. The whole thing cost $ 100 million.
When it comes to business meetings, Ellison prefers to fly his own jet, a Bombardier Global Express. In his free time, the ego and eccentric races through the area in a McLaren Formula 1 racing car or controls an Italian Marchetti fighter plane.
Ellison's greatest status symbol, however, is the "Rising Sun", with a length of 138 meters one of the largest private yachts in the world and one of the most expensive with a construction cost of 270 million dollars. A crew of 75 ensure the well-being of Ellison and his guests.
"Larry, why do you build such a mega yacht?"
"Good question. I wanted a ship that was nice-looking, built low, and capable of at least 30 knots. The longer a ship is, the faster it can go. The "Rising Sun" started at 90 meters, and then it developed a life of its own - it got longer and longer, I lost track of the length along the way. We wasted a lot of space just to make it look nice. That wasn't necessary, ”he says, pointing to the stern of the“ Rising Sun ”. There, one deck below, Ellison had a complete basketball court set up.
Just like Bill Gates, Ellison donates part of his fortune to charity: He supplies third world countries with vaccinations against infectious diseases. He recently donated $ 120 million to Harvard University, the largest donation in the history of the elite university. Research objective: to research the mechanisms of aging and related diseases.
In some ways, Ellison is similar to that other Silicon Valley founder, Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Both were adopted as children, they are close friends, and both polarize, also in their own company: Some employees adore people like Jobs and Ellison as brilliant thinkers who give clear instructions and are loyal to them. Rather, the critics see such entrepreneurs as Machiavellians and therefore leave the company.
In this way, Oracle repeatedly lost top people: for example, the star salesman Tom Siebel, who founded Siebel Systems in 1993; Ray Lane, formerly number two who joined the venture capital institution Kleiner Perkins in 2000; or Craig Conway, who became the boss of competitor PeopleSoft in 1999. These defectors are Larry's favorite enemies. "If I met Conway and his Labrador Abbey and only had one ball, believe me, it would not be for the dog," he poisoned in 2003. Conway had the laughs on his side when he brought his dog to a conference and showed him a bulletproof vest.
Also legendary is Ellison's argument with Hasso Plattner, the founder of the German arch-rival SAP and, like him, an enthusiastic sailor. A few years ago they competed against each other in the Pacific. On the last day of the regatta series, Ellison said he was at the wheel of his “Sayonara” against Plattner's “Morning Glory” so clearly that his men no longer exerted themselves. Instead, they toasted Plattner's boat triumphantly as it sailed past with champagne glasses.
Plattner was so angry that he let his pants down and stretched his bare bottom towards Ellison. (According to the German, his mast was broken and Ellison's crew did not provide any help.) Ellison, on the other hand, remembers the incident visibly amused: “My sailors were scared to death,” he says with a laugh, “before Hasso put his pants on next time he should go to a fitness center! "
Ellison also heats up arch rival SAP on business. So far, the markets have been clearly divided: Oracle is number one in the database business; this is where the company earns around 80 percent of its money. Since this business is growing only weakly, Ellison began years ago to diversify into the area of enterprise software.
Through its company acquisitions, Oracle has caught up with the Germans. Now the two are engaged in a fierce price war. "I guess in two to four years we will have overtaken them in their core business," predicts Ellison cockily. "Overall, we're bigger, we're more profitable, we're growing faster, and we're simply a much better managed company than SAP."
Oracle, SAP, IBM and Microsoft: These are the four companies that Ellison’s theory will dominate the software industry. Ellison makes no secret of his goal: “I want Oracle to become the number one software company!” But even if Oracle succeeds in doubling sales as planned: Microsoft is still way ahead with sales of 40 billion. Overtaking Microsoft, overthrowing Bill Gates would be Ellison's ultimate triumph.
And the ambitious software entrepreneur has another dream: to win the America’s Cup. Three years ago, Ellison tried it once, with a lot of money and energetic personal commitment. At that time he was officially only a substitute helmsman. But as a financier, the billionaire did not shy away from exerting a clear influence on personnel decisions. Perhaps it was also because he lost 5-1 to the eventual winner in the preliminary round, the Alinghi team led by Swiss Ernesto Bertarelli.
Ellison now wants to make $ 200 million to make the dream come true. The team that will bring him the ultimate triumph in 2007 includes 200 men from 16 nations. In the qualifying races of last year he had to admit defeat against the "Alinghi" for the most part.
He himself will also be sailing again. To secure his place, he had the rules changed and the crew expanded from 16 to 17 men. On the "USA 76", as his boat is officially called, Ellison works as an afterguard, i.e. as a member of the boat's command center, sometimes also as a helmsman. The 61-year-old's technical skills are remarkable, but he lacks the time for regular training.
His time commitment for the operation is already enormous. For this reason, he has recently handed over a lot of responsibility at Oracle to his deputies Safra Catz and Charles Phillips as well as the new CFO Gregory Maffei. The headquarters of Oracle, six sparkling glass towers in Redwood Shores in Silicon Valley, Ellison sometimes does not see for weeks.
The sun is slowly setting towards the Mediterranean horizon. Ellison instructs the crew to steer the ship towards the port.
“Larry, you've been at the helm of Oracle for 29 years. What else motivates you? "
“Interesting question. As a company, we had years of strong growth when we were small. Then came the internet bubble, then the crash and now the consolidation phase. My job is constantly changing. Seen in this way, it is always a new challenge. It depends on how you want to live your life. I have to do something. I can't just sail all the time. I would be bored to death! "
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