The Oracle Speaks: Between Yacht Races and Earnings Reports, Larry Ellison Ponders Software and Life
Levy, Steven, Newsweek
Byline: Steven Levy
Larry Ellison has never been shy of publicity. The richest man in Silicon Valley and the relentlessly aggressive founder of the relentlessly aggressive Oracle software company has cultivated an image as a computer-industry leader more like a James Bond villain (building a $100 million 16th-century Japanese-style estate, sailing world-class vessels, flying jet-fighter planes and squiring beautiful women) than a numbers-obsessed geek. Still, it raised a few eyebrows when the unpredictable Ellison agreed to put himself under a microscope for "Softwar," an ambitious book by Matthew Symonds that comes out this week, with a running commentary in footnotes from Ellison himself. Before taking his America's Cup-contending boat Oracle BMW for a Moet Cup rematch against the champion, Alinghi, Ellison recently found time to talk to NEWSWEEK's Steven Levy about Oracle's future, the ongoing competition with Microsoft, his attempt to buy competitor PeopleSoft, his evolving management style and what he so likes about the Japanese esthetic.
LEVY: You say in "Softwar" that your goal is to make Oracle not only the most important software company, but the most influential company in the world.
ELLISON: The most important soft-ware company is almost always the most influential company in the world. IBM was the most influential company in the world because during the era of mainframes, it dominated mainframe --computing--because of their software. Microsoft now is certainly the most powerful, and probably the most important, company on earth.
Can you surpass it from your perch as a database and enterprise-application company?
If the world continues to be dominated by desktop personal computers, the answer is no. But I think we're seeing a gradual shift away from the desktop and toward Internet computing. There's been three eras of computing. The first era, dominated by IBM--mainframe computing--the second era, personal computing, dominated by Microsoft. I think someone will emerge in enterprise or Internet computing as the dominant supplier of software technology. Microsoft has this unique position of being a monopoly provider in personal computing, which they're trying to leverage into a strong position on the Internet. Look what they did to Netscape. But that's our challenge, and I think we have a chance.
Let's talk about your effort to buy your competitor PeopleSoft. Oracle has made an offer that some say is insufficient, but you are now saying you're not going to increase it.
I don't think we have to. I think it's a very generous offer and we're just waiting for the government to give its OK, and we're optimistic that's going to happen, and then we'll complete the acquisition.
Your opponents have personalized this.
Yeah. I know [CEO] Craig Conway has tried to make it personal; it's not personal at all. I don't think about him. We'd like to buy PeopleSoft, and we've made a very generous offer to the shareholders. Conway's not an owner. He's a tenant. And you know, when you're the tenant and the owner sells the building, sometimes you have to move. We think the owners, the shareholders, will accept the offer, and the tenants--Mr. Conway and his board--will have to move.
What value do you think this will bring to Oracle? …