As we’ve previously reported, one of the key ways Larry Ellison built Oracle into a $38 billion-a-year business is by knowing exactly who his star engineers are, even if they work five or more layers below him.
We recently talked to one of those former star engineers, a man who helped develop one of Oracle’s most successful non-database products, about what’s that like.
Did he hang out with Ellison a lot?
Answer: no. He never even saw him, except at offsite team meetings where Ellison would talk to the entire group or division.
Ellison doesn’t just pop into the offices of the rank and file employees, he told us. Most of the time, he travels through the halls with an entourage. There’s even a joke that the elevators have an “Ellison mode” that lets him travel from his highly guarded executive offices to other floors without stopping. (It’s not true — in fact, the one place you might run into Ellison on his own is the elevator, a person close to the company tells us. )
But beyond the freak chance of seeing him in an elevator, employees really can’t get to Ellison. There’s no open-door office policy. If you land at Oracle’s top-floor executive suites, you’re greeted by large security guards. (Security is understandably pretty tight around one of the world’s richest men.)
Instead, this engineer knew he was being watched by Ellison from the emails that instructed him and his team on how to deal with the products and features they were working on.
Ellison always knows product details and often personally makes business decisions about them. That’s one of the main ways he’s kept the next release of Oracle’s cash cow product, its database, at the forefront of technology, this person told us.
The other way that an engineer knows Ellison is watching: money.
“Key people ever leave Oracle because of money,” this engineer told us. Once they were identified as important, Ellison made sure they were paid very well. Making $1 million a year between salary and stock options is not unheard of.
On the downside, the pressure is on these folks, too. Key engineers who didn’t deliver a product that sold well would be “out” and Ellison would just “go out and buy” the tech he wanted, this person told us.