Ellison working the oracle with yacht race
NET RESULTS:For several years, Ellison and Oracle have used the America’s Cup as an exciting form of corporate hospitality, writes KARLIN LILLINGTON
OCTOBER IN San Francisco is certainly proving to be a blockbuster for Oracle founder and chief executive Larry Ellison.
He got a generally positive response from analysts and the press for Oracle’s new strategy on cloud computing. Though late to the cloud game, the company presented a detailed and broad road map at the company’s annual OpenWorld conference in the city last week.
In addition, his pet project of staging the elite, high-tech sailing race the America’s Cup in San Francisco finally got under way. As he and his Oracle sailing team won the cup last time around, Ellison got the right to choose the base for the next competition and plumped for a long-standing dream to bring the multimillion-euro carbon-fibre boats to the Bay Area.
However, to Ellison’s chagrin, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. The city had to be convinced that it not only wanted the races, but the infrastructure demands and consequent costs. Despite multibillionaire Ellison pledging millions to refurbish crumbling piers on the San Francisco waterfront, city officials had their own ideas about a quid pro quo and, late last year, amid increasingly fraught negotiations, Ellison officially gave up on San Francisco and walked away from the city politicking.
Most commentators seemed convinced that was that, but anyone who follows the tactics of Ellison on the business front, where tenacious Oracle generally gets what it wants, would have been less pessimistic. Sure enough, many weeks and some hardball negotiating later, Larry had his way and a San Francisco Cup was back on.
The first short-course racing got under way at the same time as Oracle OpenWorld, which staged a huge closing concert for delegates featuring Pearl Jam and Kings of Leon. All that coincided with the city’s own massive Fleet Week celebrations.
So, San Francisco was one big party. Some 50,000 OpenWorld delegates crammed the streets and the concert, Fleet Week visitors and sailors from the world’s navies strolled the city’s renovated waterfront, and people filled the free stands and gathered along the breakwater and parks near the historic St Francis Yacht Club to see the cup races just offshore.
With the 1.7-mile span of the Golden Gate Bridge to the left, Alcatraz austerely to the right, and the funky artistic community of Sausalito directly across the water, the tall America’s Cup yachts had a glorious stage for their races. It’s the first time in history that the races have been so close to shore, making it easy for anyone to watch. Usually, the boats are mere specks at sea. This time, onlookers could easily see the boats tilt and rise as they captured the gusty bay breezes.
Sailing aficionados are well aware the sport is alien to most and often seen as an upper class amusement. Ellison and others hope to democratise the race and gain fresh converts to sailing and the race, one of the world’s first trophy sports. Organisers have a tent village set up where people can learn more about sailing and buy sleek merchandise. They crank upbeat rock music through the viewing areas and broadcast expert race commentary.
Still, if you are a billionaire tech guy, it’s handy to have your own corporate-sponsored racing yachts. For several years, Ellison and Oracle have used the America’s Cup as an exciting form of corporate hospitality, bringing customers, executives, prospective clients, analysts and journalists out to see the impressive boats as they move about the world in the various worldwide heats that lead up to the final cup race.
Alongside doing business, visitors get to meet the crews and learn about the technology that goes into these stunning vessels, which are faster, shorter-haul cousins to the boats many Irish people will have seen at the past two Volvo Ocean Races in Galway.
How much sweeter to hold such events in your home territory, with the added bonus of trotting out for viewing the silver America’s Cup trophy first presented by Queen Victoria. Ellison had it on cordoned-off view indoors at last year’s OpenWorld. This year, he risked bringing it outside into Yerba Buena Gardens next to the Moscone Centre, where it gleamed in the hot October sunshine.
As the races unfold towards next year’s cup final, Ellison must fervently hope that his team retains the trophy, keeping all the fun, and that shiny trophy, around the Bay Area for another few years of showing off.