Rising from a college dropout who was derided as a failure by his adopted dad to the world's sixth richest man, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has earned the right to retire after shepherding his company for 35 years into one of the biggest tech enterprises on Earth.
Ellison, who just turned 68 and is among the planet's most recognizable billionaires, has plenty besides work to keep himself busy, including his fast cars, jets, yacht racing and a newly purchased Hawaiian island. But given his ambitious goals for the corporation -- and the tough competition it faces -- industry observers say he's unlikely to call it quits.
"He's kind of like the last of the Mohicans," said Richard Davis, an analyst with investment bank Canaccord Genuity, noting that Ellison is one of the few original Silicon Valley entrepreneurs still running the firms they founded. "He relishes a challenge. I think he's the happiest when the sabers are crossing."
The Redwood City, Calif., software giant -- which this week hosted its annual OpenWorld tech expo in San Francisco, an event that drew 45,000 participants last year -- better hope its CEO doesn't leave, added Peter Goldmacher, a managing director at Cowen and Co., who once worked for Ellison.
"It's already going to be hard for Oracle to maneuver over the next five years" with others intruding on its businesses, Goldmacher said. Moreover, without Ellison, "I think you would see a lot of infighting" at the firm. "If two of his guys didn't like each other, he had the ability to say 'behave.' In the absence of him, the structure of the company would change."
The flamboyant Ellison -- who won the 2010 America's Cup and made a cameo appearance in the movie "Iron Man 2" -- is a global corporate celebrity. But his life began inauspiciously. Nine months after his birth in New York City, he developed pneumonia and his mother couldn't care for him. So he was raised by an aunt, whose husband often told the child he'd never amount to anything, according to "Softwar," a 2004 book about him by Matthew Symonds, who extensively interviewed Ellison.
Only learning he'd been adopted when he was 12, Ellison has said he rebelled against authority figures -- including teachers -- and quit college without a degree. But he excelled in software programming. After moving to California, he and two associates formed Software Development Laboratories, later rechristened Oracle, a name borrowed from a database program they built for the CIA.
In those days, the company had fewer than a dozen employees and piddling sales. But its growth exploded under Ellison. Processing everything from credit card and ATM transactions to hotel and airline ticket reservations, its software now is used by more than 70,000 government and commercial customers worldwide.
Employing 115,000 people, Oracle earned $10 billion on sales of just over $37 billion in its most recent fiscal year, and its stock price has quadrupled in the past decade. That has made a wealthy man of Ellison, who owns nearly a quarter of Oracle's common stock and is its biggest shareholder. Forbes Magazine estimates his net worth at $41 billion, an amount exceeded in the U.S. only by Bill Gates' $66 billion and Warren Buffett's $46 billion.
Ellison's fortune -- bolstered by his compensation from Oracle, which last fiscal year totaled $96.2 million -- has enabled him to acquire an assortment of expensive toys. These include a McLaren F1 car with a reputed top speed of more than 240 mph, several yachts -- one a 450-footer -- and aircraft ranging from Gulfstream and Cessna business jets to Italian- and Russian-made military fighters.
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