Larry Ellison likes racing yachts, which he said are fast but inherently unstable.
"It can be dangerous. Every time I'm on one of these boats there's some kind of injury," he said. When he isn't racing yachts, Ellison has been uncannily stable, co-founding Oracle in 1977 and turning it into a leading enterprise company over the last 35 years.
In a wide-ranging interview today at the D10 conference in Palos Verdes, Calif., the Oracle CEO talked about everything from his idea of the networked computer and the Sun Microsystems acquisition to lawsuits and forthcoming announcement on June 6 of new cloud-based platform and complete rewrites of new enterprise applications for the cloud.
Interviewer Kara Swisher asked Ellison about the philosophy driving his long tenure as CEO. "For a long time I have understood you either move forward or die. If you don't keep technology current and monitor what is possible today because of technology innovations, someone is going to get ahead of you, and you willl lose company to competitors," Ellison said.
In discussing the June 6 announcements, Ellison showcased his moving forward and competitive spirit, dissing SAP, Salesforce.com and Workday. "It took as six or seven years to rewrite everything for the cloud. Our competitor SAP didn't do it. We are fully in the cloud June 6 with a fully integrated suite," Ellison said, claiming that SAP won't be competitive Oracle's new offering for nearly a decade.
"SAP announced they will have nothing new until 2020. They are buying Ariba, and they bought SuccessFactors. SAP's business is ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] and they have nothing new in the cloud for at least eight years and I'd argue nothing for 10 to 12 years," he said.
Ellison also had some fun, taking jabs at Leo Apotheker, the former CEO of HP who was at the helm when the company admitted stealing Oracle's intellectual property.
Swisher asked Ellison to give HP advice, with its new CEO Meg Whitman. "I think Meg was a big improvement. But I'm focused on running Oracle. I like her and I hope she does well and for the benefit of HP's employees and customers," he said.Ellison managed to spare NetSuite, a cloud-based ERP company started in 1998 that he majority owns, and used the occasion to give a history lesson in cloud computing.
"I started NetSuite. It was my idea. We were going to do ERP as software-as-a-service. Six months later, Mark Benioff started Salesforece.com. He did Salesforce automation software instead of ERP, an he's done a great job with Salesforce.com," Ellison said. "What I objected to was the idea that there was this incredibly new thing called 'cloud computing.' But before it was called that, there were Salesforce.com and NetSuite and all of these other things. People were saying it was totally new and different, but actually it was a continuous evolution, with application moved from desktop to the network, all beginning with the Internet." Both Salesforce.com and Netsuite use Oracle databases.
Regarding the ongoing copyright and patent suit with Google, which hasn't gone so well for Oracle, Ellison said, "We won on infringement...the important part of case is about copyrights. When the litigation is over I will be happy to talk about it."
On the acquisition of Sun in 2008, Ellison said the it has already paid for itself. "We are making so much money. We only paid $5.5 billion net of cash. It's enormously profitable," he stated. Oracle has been criticized for its performance in dealing Sun hardware. "Hardware is so easy because most of hardware is software -- 98 percent of the complexity is software and arguably some of the chip technology." He allowed that the Sun acquisition was 90 percent software, so Oracle not being a hardware company didn't matter.Swisher asked Ellison what has compelled him to continue running Oracle. "Life's a journey. We're all curious about each other and about ourselves. It's a journey about discovering limits. I'm fascinated by what can be done with technology. To constantly test limits, learning as we compete to solve customer problems. The whole thing is just fascinating. I don't know what I would do if I retired.I just like competing instead of quietly watching the sunset. When I go sailing, I look around to see if anyone wants to race. I just like competing," he said.
He said his next conquest, or testing of limits, is to beat IBM in high-end servers, in addition to vanquishing SAP.
Asked about how he thinks people perceive him, Ellison said, "Frequently I'll be in a meeting with someone, people say, 'Oh my God you're nothing like what I thought you'd be.' It's a low bar. I didn't just bite the head off a small animal before the meeting." He had the crowd at D10 laughing.