The epic 30-year love-hate relationship of billionaire CEOs Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s on and off relationship makes for one of the most interesting storylines in Silicon Valley.

Ellison took Benioff under his wing and turned him into a star executive by the age of 26. But after spending 13 years at Oracle, Benioff launched his own company called Salesforce in 1999, becoming one of Oracle’s biggest rivals in the cloud software space.

The two love to trash talk each other’s company, often getting into public feuds over their businesses. But some argue they’re still good friends, and have great respect for each other.

Ellison is the fifth richest man in the world with a net worth of over $US54 billion. Benioff is worth about $US3.6 billion.

Here’s a summary of the epic 30-year love-hate relationship between the two business titans:

Three years later, Benioff became Oracle's youngest VP at the age of 26. By then, he was already a star executive, making over $300,000 a year.

Kenneth Yeung - CEO Marc Benioff

In many ways, Benioff was similar to Ellison: tall, charismatic, technologically savvy, and a gifted speaker. As former Oracle president Ray Lane once said, 'Marc would get people believing in his vision and supporting whatever project he wanted to do…That's Larry…Marc's one of Larry's favourite children.'

Michael Bradley/Getty Images)


When Benioff first started building Salesforce in 1999, he was still working at Oracle. He says Ellison was always supportive of his outside endeavour, giving him permission to split work at Salesforce in the morning and at Oracle in the afternoons. Ellison even let Benioff take a 6 month sabbatical before starting Salesforce. CEO Marc Benioff


Ellison even invested the first $2 million in Salesforce and joined its board of directors as well. He told Benioff not to take more than 3 people from Oracle to Salesforce when he left the company.

Kimberly White / Getty


Benioff still likes to call Ellison his mentor. One of the books Ellison urged Benioff to read is Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War.' Benioff once said, 'We believe in 'The Art of War', in that we are trying to get our competitors to attack us with angry, virulent energy.'

Wikimedia Commons/Hinio


Both Benioff and Ellison also have great interest in Zen Buddhism. 'I've been in Zen monasteries meditating with Larry in Kyoto,' he once said.



For years, the two engaged in public spats, openly bashing each other's companies. Ellison repeatedly played down the growth of Salesforce's cloud software, dismissing it as hype and an 'itty bitty application' mostly running on Oracle's databases, while Benioff shrugged off Oracle's software as 'false cloud.'

Nicholas Hunt/


Perhaps the peak point of their feud came in 2011 when Ellison booted Benioff from speaking at Oracle's OpenWorld show at the last minute. It was perceived as Ellison's way of humiliating Benioff for publicly making fun of his keynote speech and Oracle's cloud product.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, Bing Maps


Benioff said he thinks Oracle booted him because they were afraid he'd give a more entertaining speech than Ellison, telling the Times: 'You don't have somebody over to your house to tell better jokes than you.' Benioff ended up giving a speech at a nearby hotel instead.

Marc Benioff
Marc Benioff posed in front a replica Iron Throne from the Game of Thrones premier


In a follow up interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, Benioff admitted, 'He's my mentor. He was our first investor and first board member. There is no one I've learned more from than Larry Ellison.'

Business Insider/TechCrunch Disrupt/screen capture CEO Marc Benioff


But things have been devolving again recently, and the two appear to be back at it again. In a recent earnings call, Benioff slammed Oracle again, calling its 'Fusion' applications 'Confusion.'

Justin Sullivan/Getty
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff delivers the keynote address during the Dreamforce 2012 conference at the Moscone Center on September 19, 2012 in San Francisco, California. A reported 90,000 people registered to attend the cloud computing industry conference Dreamforce 2012 that runs through September 21. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


It's unclear what the real relationship between the two is truly like behind the scenes, but some of people who know both Ellison and Benioff say they still have great respect for each other.

Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

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