- Larry Ellison, the founder and CTO of Oracle, has a net worth of $75.7 billion, according to Forbes.
- But Ellison hasn’t had the tech world’s typical path to success. He dropped out of college twice and didn’t become a billionaire until age 49.
- Over the years, he’s built Oracle into a $170 billion behemoth whose former employees have gone on to start companies like Salesforce.
- He’s also become a lavish spender, owning several homes and even the entire Hawaiian island of Lanai.
- In December 2018, he joined his “close friend” Elon Musk on Tesla’s board of directors.
- Ellison is also one of the few tech leaders who openly supports President Donald Trump.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Larry Ellison, the 76-year-old billionaire cofounder of Oracle, is one of the most interesting men in tech.
Here’s how he went from two-time college dropout to international playboy and tech titan.
Matt Weinberger contributed to an earlier version of this story.
Lawrence Joseph Ellison was born in the Bronx on August 17, 1944, the son of a single mother named Florence Spellman.
When he was 9 months old, baby Larry came down with pneumonia, according to Bloomberg. His mom sent him to Chicago to live with his aunt and uncle, Lillian and Louis Ellison.
According to Vanity Fair, Louis, his adoptive father, was a Russian immigrant who took the name "Ellison" in tribute to the place in which he entered the US: Ellis Island.
Ellison went to high school in Chicago's South Side before attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When his adoptive mother died during his second year at college, Ellison dropped out. He tried college again later at the University of Chicago but dropped out again after only one semester.
In 1966, a 22-year-old Ellison moved to Berkeley, California — near the future Silicon Valley and already the place where the tech industry was taking off. He made the trip from Chicago to California in a flashy turquoise Thunderbird that he thought would make an impression in his new life.
Ellison bounced around from job to job, including stints at companies like Wells Fargo and the mainframe manufacturer Amdahl. Along the way, he learned computer and programming skills.
Source: Vanity Fair
The turning point came when Ellison came to work for the electronics company Ampex, which had a contract to build a database for the CIA codenamed "Oracle."
In 1977, Ellison and partners Bob Miner and Ed Oates founded a new company, Software Development Laboratories. The company started with $2,000 of funding, $1,200 of which came out of Ellison's own pocket.
Ellison and company were inspired by IBM computer scientist Edgar F. Codd's theories for a so-called relational database - a way for computer systems to store and access information, according to Britannica. Nowadays, they're taken for granted, but in the '70s, they were a revolutionary idea.
The first version of the Oracle database was version 2 — there was no version 1. In 1979, the company renamed itself Relational Software Inc., and in 1982, it formally became Oracle Systems Corp., after its flagship product.
As one of the key drivers of the growing computer industry, Oracle grew fast. In 1986, Oracle had its initial public offering, reporting revenue of $55 million.
Still, in 1990, Oracle had to lay off 10% of its workforce, about 400 people, because of what Ellison later described as "an incredible business mistake."
Oracle had allowed its salespeople to book future sales in the current quarter, meaning all its numbers were skewed, according to CRN. It resulted in lawsuits and trouble with regulators.
It didn't get the decade off to a great start. After adjusting for that huge error, Oracle was said to be close to bankruptcy. At the same time, rivals like Sybase were eating away at Oracle's market share.
It took a few years, but by 1992, Ellison and Oracle managed to right the course with new employees and the popular Oracle7 database.
Ellison is known for his willingness to trash-talk competitors. For much of the '90s, he and Oracle were locked in a public-relations battle with the competitor Informix, which went so far as to place a "Dinosaur Crossing" billboard outside Oracle's Silicon Valley offices at one point.
But Oracle just kept steamrolling over the competition. And with Ellison as Oracle's major shareholder, his millions kept rolling in. He started to indulge in some expensive hobbies — including yacht racing. That's Ellison at the helm during a 1995 race.
He also sponsors the Oracle USA sailing team, which won the America's Cup in 2010.
Ellison even managed to turn a potential loss into a big win. In 1999, Ellison's protégé, Marc Benioff, left Oracle to work on a new startup called Salesforce.com. Ellison was an early investor, putting $2 million into his friend's new venture.
Source: Business Insider
When Benioff found out that Ellison had Oracle working on a direct competitor to Salesforce's product, he tried to force his mentor to quit Salesforce's board. Instead, Ellison forced Benioff to fire him — meaning Ellison kept his shares in Salesforce.
Source: Business Insider
Given that Salesforce is now a $115 billion company, Ellison personally profits even when his competitors do well. It has led to a love-hate relationship between the two executives that continues to this day, with the two taking shots at each other in the press.
Source: Business Insider
In fact, Salesforce aside, the dot-com boom of the late '90s benefited Oracle, too: All of those new dot-com companies needed databases, and Oracle was there to sell them.
Source: Investor's Business Daily
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, he asked Ellison to sit on the board. Ellison stuck around for a while but felt that he couldn't devote the time.
With the coffers overflowing, Ellison was able to lead Oracle through a spending spree once the dot-com boom was over and prices were low.
In 2004, for example, Oracle snapped up the HR software provider PeopleSoft for $10.3 billion.
And in 2010, Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, a server company that started at about the same time as Oracle, in 1982. That acquisition gave Oracle lots of key technology, including control over the popular MySQL database.
Starting in the 2010s, Ellison started to take more of a back seat, handing more responsibilities to trusted lieutenants, like Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, then Oracle's co-presidents.
In 2014, Ellison officially stepped down as Oracle CEO, handing control over to Hurd and Katz, who became co-CEOs. Ellison now serves as the company's chairman and chief technology officer.
In 2016, Ellison scored a personal coup: the purchase of NetSuite.
Back in 1998, Ellison had made a $125 million investment in ex-Oracle exec Evan Goldberg's startup business-management software firm, NetSuite. It ended up working out well for Ellison when NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson negotiated the sale of the company to Oracle for $9.3 billion, netting Ellison a cool $3.5 billion in cash for his stake.
NetSuite investor T. Rowe Price tried to block the deal, citing Ellison's conflict of interest, but the sale closed in November 2016.
Ellison didn't become a billionaire until age 49. Now, he has a net worth of $75.7 billion, according to Forbes. That makes him the fifth-richest person in the world.
He's used his billions in a variety of ways: he invested in educational platform maker Leapfrog Enterprises ...
... and was an early investor in the ill-fated blood-testing Theranos, which shut down in 2018 after founder Elizabeth Holmes was accused of fraud.
Source: Business Insider
In December 2018, Ellison joined the board of directors at Tesla, where he's been a major investor. Earlier in 2018, Ellison described Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a "close friend," and defended him from critics.
Ellison has also spent lavishly over the years, so much so that his accountant, Philip Simon, once asked him to "budget and plan," according to Bloomberg.
But Ellison's spending didn't slow down. In 2012, he bought 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai.
Ellison founded a startup called Sensei that does hydroponic farming on Lanai in March 2016.
He also purchased Hawaiian budget airline Island Air in 2014, before selling a controlling interest in the airline two years later after it struggled financially.
Ellison also owns the Astor Beechwood Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island ...
... and this home in Malibu. Ellison also has houses in Woodside, California, and Rancho Mirage, California.
In 2009, Ellison purchased the Indian Wells tennis tournament for a reported $100 million.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Ellison is also a noted philanthropist. In 2010, he signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate 95% of his fortune before he dies. And in May 2016, Ellison donated $200 million to a cancer treatment center at the University of Southern California.
Ellison has been married and divorced four times. Coupled with his extreme wealth, it's given him a reputation as an international, jet-setting playboy. He most recently dated Nikita Kahn, a model and actress.
Source: South China Morning Post
Ellison has two children. His daughter, Megan, is an Oscar-nominated film producer and the founder of Annapurna Pictures. The company has produced films like "Zero Dark Thirty" and "American Hustle."
Source: Vanity Fair
Ellison's son, David, is also in the film business. His company, Skydance Media, has produced movies like "Terminator: Dark Fate" and films in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise.
Ellison is currently one of the few tech leaders who has a friendly relationship with President Donald Trump.
Ellison has said publicly that he supports Trump and wants him to do well, and hosted a Trump fundraiser at his Rancho Mirage home in February, though he did not attend. The fundraiser caused an outcry among Oracle employees, who started a petition asking senior Oracle leadership to stand up to Ellison. Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, also has close ties to the Trump administration, having served on Trump's transition team.
Ellison and Trump remain close and have reportedly spoken on the phone about possible coronavirus treatments. Trump has also supported Oracle's bid to buy TikTok, calling Oracle a "great company."