The life and career of Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who went from college drop-out to jet-setting playboy and 7th-richest person in the world

Larry Ellison, Oracle cofounder, speaks onstage in front of background of red circles
Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison. Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images
  • Larry Ellison, the 77-year-old cofounder of Oracle, is one of the most interesting men in tech.
  • Whether it’s yacht-racing, buying Hawaiian islands, or trash-talking competitors, Ellison keeps it interesting.
  • N
  • ow, he’s one of the world’s richest people with a net worth of $122 billion.
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Lawrence Joseph Ellison was born in the Bronx on August 17, 1944, the son of a single mother named Florence Spellman.
The Bronx
The view of Manhattan from the Bronx. ANDREW HOLBROOKE/Corbis via Getty Images
When he was 9 months old, baby Larry came down with pneumonia, according to Bloomberg. His mom sent him to Chicago to live with his aunt and uncle, Lillian and Louis Ellison.

According to Vanity Fair, Louis, his adoptive father, was a Russian immigrant who took the name “Ellison” in tribute to the place in which he entered the US: Ellis Island.

Ellison went to high school in Chicago’s South Side before attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When his adoptive mother died during his second year at college, Ellison dropped out. He tried college again later at the University of Chicago but dropped out again after only one semester.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
A view of the campus at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Source: Bloomberg
In 1966, a 22-year-old Ellison moved to Berkeley, California — near the future Silicon Valley and already the place where the tech industry was taking off. He made the trip from Chicago to California in a flashy turquoise Thunderbird that he thought would make an impression in his new life.
Ford Thunderbird
A turquoise Ford Thunderbird, but not the one Ellison drove. Rolf Schulten/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Source: Inc., Vanity Fair
Ellison bounced around from job to job, including stints at companies like Wells Fargo and the mainframe manufacturer Amdahl. Along the way, he learned computer and programming skills.
Mainframe computer 1970s
A mainframe computer room in the 1970s. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Source: Vanity Fair
The turning point came when Ellison came to work for the electronics company Ampex, which had a contract to build a database for the CIA codenamed “Oracle.”
CIA agents agency
Source: Inc.
In 1977, Ellison and partners Bob Miner and Ed Oates founded a new company, Software Development Laboratories. The company started with $2,000 of funding, $1,200 of which came out of Ellison’s own pocket.
Larry Ellison in 1990
Larry Ellison in 1990. James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images
Ellison and company were inspired by IBM computer scientist Edgar F. Codd’s theories for a so-called relational database — a way for computer systems to store and access information, according to Britannica. Nowadays, they’re taken for granted, but in the ’70s, they were a revolutionary idea.
The first version of the Oracle database was version 2 — there was no version 1. In 1979, the company renamed itself Relational Software Inc., and in 1982, it formally became Oracle Systems Corp., after its flagship product.
Young larry ellison oracle
Source: Inc.
As one of the key drivers of the growing computer industry, Oracle grew fast. In 1986, Oracle had its initial public offering, reporting revenue of $55 million.
Oracle larry ellison nasdaq
Source: Inc.
Still, in 1990, Oracle had to lay off 10% of its workforce, about 400 people, because of what Ellison later described as “an incredible business mistake.”
Larry Ellison
Oracle had allowed its salespeople to book future sales in the current quarter, meaning all its numbers were skewed, according to CRN. It resulted in lawsuits and trouble with regulators.

It didn’t get the decade off to a great start. After adjusting for that huge error, Oracle was said to be close to bankruptcy. At the same time, rivals like Sybase were eating away at Oracle’s market share.

It took a few years, but by 1992, Ellison and Oracle managed to right the course with new employees and the popular Oracle7 database.
Oracle
Source: Oracle
Ellison is known for his willingness to trash-talk competitors. For much of the ’90s, he and Oracle were locked in a public-relations battle with the competitor Informix, which went so far as to place a “Dinosaur Crossing” billboard outside Oracle’s Silicon Valley offices at one point.
Oracle headquarters
Source: Fortune
But Oracle just kept steamrolling over the competition. And with Ellison as Oracle’s major shareholder, his millions kept rolling in. He started to indulge in some expensive hobbies — including yacht racing. That’s Ellison at the helm during a 1995 race.
Larry ellison yacht race
Source: Bloomberg
He also sponsors the Oracle USA sailing team, which won the America’s Cup in 2010.
Oracle team usa americas cup
Source: Bloomberg
Ellison even managed to turn a potential loss into a big win. In 1999, Ellison’s protégé, Marc Benioff, left Oracle to work on a new startup called Salesforce.com. Ellison was an early investor, putting $2 million into his friend’s new venture.
Marc Benioff
Marc Benioff in 2007. David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
When Benioff found out that Ellison had Oracle working on a direct competitor to Salesforce’s product, he tried to force his mentor to quit Salesforce’s board. Instead, Ellison forced Benioff to fire him — meaning Ellison kept his shares in Salesforce.
Larry Ellison
Given that Salesforce is now a $250 billion company, Ellison personally profits even when his competitors do well. It has led to a love-hate relationship between the two executives that continues to this day, with the two taking shots at each other in the press.
Larry Ellison Marc Benioff
In fact, Salesforce aside, the dot-com boom of the late ’90s benefited Oracle, too: All of those new dot-com companies needed databases, and Oracle was there to sell them.
Larry Ellison Oracle 1999
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, he asked Ellison to sit on the board. Ellison stuck around for a while but felt that he couldn’t devote the time.
Steve jobs imac 1998
Source: Inc.
With the coffers overflowing, Ellison was able to lead Oracle through a spending spree once the dot-com boom was over and prices were low.
Larry ellison scott mcnealy oracle sun
In 2004, for example, Oracle snapped up the HR software provider PeopleSoft for $10.3 billion.

And in 2010, Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, a server company that started at about the same time as Oracle, in 1982. That acquisition gave Oracle lots of key technology, including control over the popular MySQL database.

Starting in the 2010s, Ellison started to take more of a back seat, handing more responsibilities to trusted lieutenants, like Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, then Oracle’s co-presidents.
Oracle Mark Hurd and Safra Catz
Oracle CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz AP
Source: Inc.
In 2014, Ellison officially stepped down as Oracle CEO, handing control over to Hurd and Catz, who became co-CEOs. Ellison now serves as the company’s chairman and chief technology officer. Following Hurd’s death in 2019, Catz became the sole CEO.
Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison delivers the keynote address during the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference on September 30, 2014 in San Francisco, California.
Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison delivers the keynote address during the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference on September 30, 2014 in San Francisco, California.. Getty
Source: Inc.
In 2016, Ellison scored a personal coup: the purchase of NetSuite.
Zach Nelson Netsuite
NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson. Nora Tam/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Back in 1998, Ellison had made a $125 million investment in ex-Oracle exec Evan Goldberg’s startup business-management software firm, NetSuite. It ended up working out well for Ellison when NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson negotiated the sale of the company to Oracle for $9.3 billion, netting Ellison a cool $3.5 billion in cash for his stake.

NetSuite investor T. Rowe Price tried to block the deal, citing Ellison’s conflict of interest, but the sale closed in November 2016.

Ellison didn’t become a billionaire until age 49. Now, he has a net worth of roughly $122 billion, according to Forbes, after racking up $50 billion in gains thanks to Oracle and Tesla stock. That makes him the seventh-richest person in the world.
Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison Getty/Justin Sullivan / Staff
He’s used his billions in a variety of ways: he invested in educational platform maker Leapfrog Enterprises …
Leapfrog Enterprises
Source: Bloomberg
… and was an early investor in the ill-fated blood-testing Theranos, which shut down in 2018 after founder Elizabeth Holmes was accused of fraud.
Elizabeth Holmes
Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes Mike Blake/Reuters
In December 2018, Ellison joined the board of directors at Tesla, where he’s been a major investor. Earlier in 2018, Ellison described Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a “close friend,” and defended him from critics.
Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Ellison has also spent lavishly over the years, so much so that his accountant, Philip Simon, once asked him to “budget and plan,” according to Bloomberg.
Larry ellison oracle yacht team usa
Source: Bloomberg
But Ellison’s spending didn’t slow down. In 2012, he bought 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai.
Larry Ellison Lanai
Ellison founded a startup called Sensei in 2016 that does hydroponic farming and owns a wellness retreat on Lanai.

He also purchased Hawaiian budget airline Island Air in 2014, before selling a controlling interest in the airline two years later after it struggled financially.

Ellison also owns the Astor Beechwood Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island …
Beechwood mansion newport rhode island
Source: Bloomberg
… and this home in Malibu. Ellison also has houses in Woodside, California, and Rancho Mirage, California.
Larry ellison malibu beach home
Source: Bloomberg
In 2009, Ellison purchased the Indian Wells tennis tournament for a reported $100 million.
Larry Ellison Indian Wells
Ellison at Indian Wells in 2011. Danny Moloshok/Reuters
Ellison is also a philanthropist. In 2010, he signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate 95% of his fortune before he dies. And in May 2016, Ellison donated $200 million to a cancer treatment center at the University of Southern California.
Usc
Ellison has been married and divorced four times. Coupled with his extreme wealth, it’s given him a reputation as an international, jet-setting playboy. He most recently dated Nikita Kahn, a model and actress.
Larry Ellison of Oracle and Nikita Kahn Chinese State Dinner
Ellison and Kahn at the White House. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
Ellison has two children. His daughter, Megan, is an Oscar-nominated film producer and the founder of Annapurna Pictures. The company has produced films like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “American Hustle.”
Megan ellison
Megan Ellison. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Source: Vanity Fair
Ellison’s son, David, is also in the film business. His company, Skydance Media, has produced movies like “Terminator: Dark Fate” and films in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.
Larry ellison david ellison
Larry Ellison (left) and his son, David. Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP
Source: Variety
Ellison was one of the few tech leaders who had a friendly relationship with former President Donald Trump.
Larry Ellison
Ellison said publicly that he supported Trump and wants him to do well, and hosted a Trump fundraiser at his Rancho Mirage home in February, though he did not attend. The fundraiser caused an outcry among Oracle employees, who started a petition asking senior Oracle leadership to stand up to Ellison.

Catz, the CEO of Oracle, also had close ties to the Trump administration, having served on Trump’s transition team. 

Ellison and Trump remained close during Trump’s time in office and reportedly spoke on the phone about possible coronavirus treatments. Trump also supported Oracle’s bid to buy TikTok, calling Oracle a “great company.”  

In December 2020, Ellison revealed that he moved to Lanai full-time.
Lanai Hawaii
A person on a parasail is framed by palm trees against the backdrop of the island of Lanai. Michael Conroy/AP
The announcement came after Oracle decided to move its headquarters to Austin, Texas, leading Oracle employees to ask Ellison if he planned to move to Texas too, he wrote in a company-wide email.

“The answer is no,” Ellison wrote. “I’ve moved to the state of Hawaii and I’ll be using the power of Zoom to work from the island of Lanai.”

He signed the email: “Mahalo, Larry.”

Matt Weinberger and Taylor Nicole Rogers contributed to an earlier version of this story.