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End of an Era: Larry Ellison Steps Down as Oracle’s CEO

18 Sep

September 18, 2014

Larry Ellison in Tokyo on April 9

Photograph by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Larry Ellison in Tokyo on April 9

Larry Ellison has agreed to step down as the chief executive officer at Oracle, ending one of the most entertaining and profitable runs for a leader in business history.

Oracle announced Ellison’s departure via a press release delivered on Thursday afternoon after the close of the U.S. financial markets. The company said that Ellison will remain Chairman of Oracle’s board and take on the role of chief technology officer. Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, both presidents at Oracle, will each inherit the CEO title. Catz will remain as chief financial officer as well.

Ellison co-founded Oracle in 1977 and has run the company ever since. He guided Oracle through many ups and downs and ended up with the world’s largest database software company and one of the largest makers of business software. Oracle’s products have become the backbone of modern commerce and industry. Ellison was one of the last remaining founder CEOs of the technology industry’s old school powerhouses like Microsoft, Apple, and Intel and his departure certainly caps off an era. Ellison turned 70 last month.

Few leaders in the technology industry have managed to capture as many headlines as Ellison. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, he’s worth about $46 billion, making him the seventh richest man in the world. Ellison has never been shy his wealth. He’s built a sprawling Japanese-Inspired home in Silicon Valley, scooped up large swaths of land in Malibu, and owned myriad fast cars and planes. Ellison made a particularly showy splash when he bought the Hawaiian island of Lanai last year. He’s also well known for yachting exploits and recently sponsored the team that won the America’s Cup.Ellison celebrates on the podium after the second race of the 33rd America's Cup off Valencia's coast on Feb. 14, 2010 in Valencia, SpainPhotograph by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty ImagesEllison celebrates on the podium after the second race of the 33rd America’s Cup off Valencia’s coast on Feb. 14, 2010 in Valencia, Spain

Ellison’s varied interests outside of the technology industry have grown in their ambition and demanded more of his attention. He bought the Indian Wells tennis tournament, since renamed as the BNP Paribas Open, a few years ago and has turned it into what many in the tennis world consider a fifth grand slam. Since acquiring Lanai, Ellison has been working to revitalize the island’s economy, and Ellison has been investing in the booming movie production businesses of hischildren.

Ellison’s business battles have garnered just as much publicity as his flamboyant lifestyle. Instead of backing down in the face of antitrust lawsuits and competitive battles, Ellison has tended to play the role of the aggressor and usually emerged victorious. One of Ellison’s favorite targets has been Microsoft, which competes against Oracle in the market for business software.Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California on March 18, 2011Photograph by Paul Buck/CorbisLarry Ellison and Mark Hurd at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California on March 18, 2011

The day-to-day operations of Oracle have been in the hands of Hurd and Catz for a number of years. Hurd came to Oracle in 2010 after being ousted as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Ellison famously rushed to Hurd’s defense in his battle with the HP board over how his departure was handled. In dismissing Hurd, Ellison said at the time, HP had made as big a mistake as Apple did when it fired Steve Jobs. Catz has been at Oracle since 1999 and has been Ellison’s longtime trusted second in command. Despite handing over some duties, Ellison has continued to oversee Oracle’s technology strategy. Company insiders have been impressed with how much he’s stayed on top of technology developments.

Before Hurd’s arrival, Catz had been thought of as the natural successor to Ellison. She has moved around different parts of the company and stuck around while other top executives have either left or seen their reputations fade. Catz has tended to shy away from the limelight and rarely does interviews. Hurd has no media hangups. Hurd has focused on Oracle’s sales, marketing, and support, while Catz has handled the bulk of the financial and legal operations. Neither executive is short on ego. Whether they can play nice, as Ellison takes on more of a background role, remains to be seen.Ellison in 1996Photograph by William STEVENS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesEllison in 1996

A number of well-known executives have left Oracle instead of waiting for Ellison to retire. As a president of the company in the 1990s, Raymond Lane helped pull the company out of a slump and revamp its operations. Lane, however, would later spar with Ellison and left the company to become a venture capitalist. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, was also a rising star at Oracle.

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