Oracle’s Sunday Night Live

November 12, 2007 at 12:46 am Leave a comment

By Diane Krakora

To launch this year’s Oracle OpenWorld, CEO Larry Ellison and President/CFO Safra Catz hosted the opening keynote, SNL30 “ Sunday Night Live.” The evening opened with music by cover band Gear Driver, made up of Oracle employees — including Doug Kennedy, senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels, on the drums. It is always great when the channels and alliances people show off their personality. The partners absolutely love it. Several of the partners mentioned Doug’s willingness to “put it out there” during the 70’s themed launch party.

After the band played, the organizers performed a stadium card stunt. I didn’t realize Oracle customers didn’t go to college football games. It was quiet challenging to get the 40,000 people to coordinate on raising red and white cardboard over their heads to spell out 3 0, commemorating Oracle’s 30th year. It really only took about 10,000 people to complete the effect: the other 30,000 had all red cards (the background) just to cover the see of faces.

The cast from SNL did a few cute skits roasting Larry’s penchant for acquiring companies and the Oracle beginnings: their first customer 30 years ago being the CIA.

Larry then spent about an hour relaying stories from the early years. His self-effacing humor was endearing in a way I’ve never seen him before. It was inspiring as an entrepreneur to hear the trials and tribulations of Larry, Ed Oates, Bruce Scott and Bob Miner, who passed away in 1994 from mesothelioma, and who Larry dedicated the evening to.

Larry talked his buddy, Robert Miner, into starting a company to bid on an opportunity at Precision Instruments, where Larry worked as a programmer. They easily won the project as they bid $300,000 and the next lowest bid was for $2 million. There and then Larry decided sales was “easy.” In 1977 they decided they didn’t want to be a consulting company, but a product company and Larry started selling the database software to the government. He admitted he was “just” a programmer and didn’t understand much about sales or finances. He sold Oracle v2 to the CIA for $48,000: it was version 2 because “who would buy version 1 of any software from four guys in California?” With their huge win, they moved to 3000 Sand Hill Road and started putting in the long hours of a software start-up. As with most start-ups, these were the tough years of maxed out credit cards, driving crappy cars and nightly pizza delivery. Larry joked several times during his key note that he didn’t know what a balance sheet was: they were so bad at finances that they shangahaied the pizza delivery guy who was studying accounting at UC Berkeley to do their books. Their long hours caught the eye of Don Lucas, a VC in the same prestigious address. Don truly became an “angel” and paid Larry’s mortgage while he wasn’t drawing a salary (I think they both made out OK in the end). Larry wove the tale quickly through the couple decades, only pausing slightly to mention their first, and only, quarter loss in the recession of 1991. He admitted to “driving the company into a brick wall going 800 miles an hour.” He confessed he was fearful they were going out of business and that he would lose his job and that he continues to “get smarter every day.”He sped through a series of recruitment stories and management team hires, the technology bubble bursting and ended with a thank you to all 300,000 customers.

You don’t see many $20 billion companies where the founder is still the CEO. Typically we see the early programmers/engineers pushed aside by the investors in favor of seasoned leaders. Replacing the”founders syndrome”with new leadership dissipates the connection to the company history and consistency of culture (whether you resonate with this culture or not) that comes from the early days. This is certainly something all growing organizations (companies or departments) grabble with at some point in their development. What characteristics or traits empowered Larry Ellison, the awesome programmer, to be able to answer “yes” to the interminable question “Am I the person to lead this organization into the next stage of our development?”

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Entry filed under: Live from Events.

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