How Larry Ellison Built An Empire -- And Almost Lost It

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Photo: Bloomberg

Larry Ellison turned Oracle into a giant company through sheer force of will. But he almost destroyed the company with that same force of will.His hard charging sales pitch picked up new customers when Oracle was just starting. By the time it was a mature company, the aggressive sales pitch nearly crashed the company when the product couldn’t meet the promise of salesmen.

In its new documentary series, Game Changers, Bloomberg details how Larry Ellison, the “Samurai warrior of Silicon Valley,” built his company and then almost lost it all.

We watched the first half of the program and have summarized Ellison’s rise and fall.

Larry Ellison started Software Development Labs with $1,200. Below is an early sign for the business.

He didn't know what to do with SDL until he read a paper from IBM about relational databases. IBM didn't see the potential in it, Ellison did.

Ellison sold his first database to the CIA, it was named Oracle Version 2. Later he named the company Oracle.

He called the first version of it version two. Why? Because no one buys the first version of a product.

Another part of Oracle's DNA? Take no prisoners, and grab 100% of the market.

Thanks to Ellison's brash style, Oracle became a big success, IPOing in 1986. Ellison's stake was worth $93 million. The IPO was overshadowed by Microsoft's IPO a day later.

Ellison was furious that Microsoft overshadowed him. The success of Microsoft would dog him in years to come.

In 1989, Ellison built a huge Headquarters which was dubbed Larryland.

Oracle must have been bit by the curse of the new HQ. By 1990 Oracle was on life support thanks to crappy software, and a too aggressive sales staff.

The 6th version of Oracle's software was riddled with bugs. Customers were furious and sales plummeted.

By Nov 1, 1990, Ellison's personal fortune was down $790 million thanks to Oracle's tanking stock.

Ellison had to fire nearly all of Oracle's senior staff.

Oracle was saved when the 7th version of the software hit the market. It was orders of magnitude better.

Oracle bounced back, but Ellison wasn't done. He wanted to crush Microsoft.

How much did Ellison hate Microsoft and Bill Gates? He hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Gates.

To beat Microsoft, Ellison started selling the network computer. It was the precursor to the iPad, oddly enough. Designed for lightweight computing and connecting to the web, it cost $500.

The network computer flopped, and Microsoft took over the world.

But Ellison's insight into the power of the web laid the groundwork for what Oracle would become in the next decade -- the backend of the Internet.

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