Ellison’s status is secure as coolest cat in Silicon Valley
Journalists knew Ellison was practically a guarantee of lively copy
“The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do”
As news percolated across the internet last week that Oracle founder Larry Ellison was to step down as chief executive, to be replaced by dual chief executives (until now Oracle’s dual presidents) Safra Catz and Mark Hurd, the wags went to work on Twitter. Within minutes, up popped a flood of tweets about the managerial challenges of “Hurd ’n’ Catz” – a reference to the technology joke that managing programmers is akin to herding cats.
Amusing, yes, but pretty lame when set against the legendary ripostes and knowingly outrageous quips of Ellison.
Former Sun chief executive Scott McNealy did a good line in acerbic wit too, but no one in the industry quite came close to Ellison and for that he will certainly be missed. Journalists blank-eyed from listening to cautious and dull chief executive speeches knew Ellison was practically a guarantee of lively copy.
No surprise then, that links to past Ellison interviews and keynotes also spread across the net since the announcement. Among them, the Register, the UK’s gimlet-eyed tech news site, posted an article featuring its own selection of the top 10 Ellison quotes.
Some of my favourites are in there, including a famed slice taken from an interview in which Ellison said what so many were thinking about a then-new buzzword term, “cloud computing”.
“The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do,” he said. “The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?”
Still makes me laugh out loud. Not least because, of course, Oracle went on to fully the embrace the cloud.
As if, out there in the dark and sleazy public clouds of competitors, data lap dancing occurred between non-consensual information. He’d carefully, distastefully, enunciate the word. Co-mingling. Ugh! Who could possibly want their data, their sweet and innocent and private data, to co-mingle? With stranger data! What might it get up to? Tainted data love.
He could also be surprisingly blunt about his own life – an adopted child who dropped out of university twice and went on to become extraordinarily successful, ranked the fifth wealthiest man currently by Forbes (worth $50 billion as of this week, give or take a few hundred million as Oracle shares rise and fall).
The Register highlights a 1995 interview in which he told Smithsonian magazine, “Sure, I wanted to make a living. I certainly never expected to become rich, certainly not this rich. I mean, rich does not even describe this. This is surreal.”
Just how surreal is illustrated neatly by the fact that, in the same week that he stepped down as chief executive he is featured in a long New York Times story on his plans for the Hawaiian island of Lanai. He bought it a while back, or 97 per cent of it, meaning he owns almost all the land, the buildings, the two Four Season hotels, even the animal shelter and its 380 semi-feral cats (his own personal herd).
His loud-mouthed antics and blunt proclamations and criticisms annoyed many people, too (which is, obviously, the point). But I always looked forward to an Ellison press briefing, as well as his keynote at the company’s annual, and massive, OpenWorld user conference in San Francisco, which starts on Sunday. He’s still due to give two as normal, even though he will now become chief technology officer as well as chairman (so he hasn’t entirely gone away, you know).
The press briefings I attended were themselves sometimes surreal. Two of them required being ferried out to his massive yacht Rising Sun, which is the length of a football pitch.
At one he had just finished two hours of competitive pre-America’s Cup sailing. But he sat down, full of energy, and gamely answered press questions from a small group for nearly three hours. We were drained at the end. In his 60s then, he looked ready for another sea race and perhaps some verbal fisticuffs with his arch tech competitor, SAP.
Love him or hate him, there has never, in my two decades of covering technology, been another chief executive quite like him. He’s sui generis. The whole industry, and Oracle itself, will be a lot more bland without him at the ship’s helm.