From the Academy of Achievement:
Lawrence J. Ellison was born in the Bronx, New York. At nine months, he contracted pneumonia, and his unmarried 19-year-old mother gave him to her aunt and uncle in Chicago to raise. Lawrence was raised in a two-bedroom apartment on the city's South Side. Until he was twelve years old he did not know that he was adopted. His adoptive father had lost his real estate business in the Great Depression and made a modest living as an auditor for the public housing authority. As a boy, Larry Ellison showed an independent, rebellious streak and often clashed with his adoptive father. From an early age, he showed a strong aptitude for math and science, and was named science student of the year at the University of Illinois.
During the final exams in his second year, Larry Ellison's adoptive mother died, and he dropped out of school. He enrolled at the University of Chicago the following fall, but dropped out again after the first semester. His adoptive father was now convinced that Larry would never make anything of himself, but the seemingly aimless young man had already learned the rudiments of computer programming in Chicago. He took this skill with him to Berkeley, California, arriving with just enough money for fast food and a few tanks of gas. For the next eight years, Ellison bounced from job to job, working as a technician for Fireman's Fund and Wells Fargo bank. As a programmer at Ampex, he participated in building the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.
In 1977, Ellison and two of his Ampex colleagues, Robert Miner and Ed Oates, founded their own company, Software Development Labs. From the beginning, Ellison served as Chief Executive Officer. Ellison had come across a paper called "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks" by Edgar F. ("Ted") Codd, describing a concept Codd had developed at IBM. Codd's employers saw no commercial potential in the concept of a Structured Query Language (SQL), but Larry Ellison did.
Ellison and his partners won a two-year contract to build a relational database management system (RDBMS) for the CIA. The project's code name: Oracle. They finished the project a year ahead of schedule and used the extra time to develop their system for commercial applications. They named their commercial RDBMS Oracle as well. In 1980, Ellison's company had only eight employees, and revenues were less than $1 million, but the following year, IBM itself adopted Oracle for its mainframe systems, and Oracle's sales doubled every year for the next seven years,. The million dollar company was becoming a billion dollar company. Ellison renamed the company Oracle Corporation, for its best-selling product.
Oracle went public in 1986, raising $31.5 million with its initial public offering, but the firm's zealous young staff habitually overstated revenues, and in 1990 the company posted its first losses. Oracle's market capitalization fell by 80 percent and the company appeared to be on the verge of bankruptcy. Accepting the need for drastic change, he replaced much of the original senior staff with more experienced managers. For the first time, he delegated the management side of the business to professionals, and channeled his own energies into product development. A new version of the database program Oracle 7, released in 1992, swept the field and made Oracle the industry leader in database management software. In only two years the company's stock had regained much of its previous value.
Even as Oracle's fortunes rose again, Ellison suffered a series of personal mishaps. Long an enthusiast of strenuous outdoor activities, Ellison suffered serious injuries while body surfing and mountain biking. He recovered from major surgery, and continued to race his 78-foot yacht, Sayonara, and to practice aerobatics in a succession of private jets, including decommissioned fighter planes. In 1998, Ellison and Sayonara won the Sydney to Hobart race, overcoming near-hurricane winds that sank five other boats, drowning six participants. Ellison is a principal supporter of the BMW Oracle Racing team, which has been a significant force in America's Cup competition. His own yacht, Rising Sun, over 450 feet long, is one of the largest privately owned vessels in the world.
Oracle's fortunes continued to rise throughout the 1990s. America's banks, airlines, automobile companies and retail giants all came to depend on Oracle's database programs. Under Ellison's leadership, Oracle became a pioneer in providing business applications over the Internet. Oracle benefited hugely from the growth of electronic commerce; its net profits increased by 76 percent in a single quarter of the year 2000. As the stocks of other high tech companies fluctuated wildly, Oracle held its value, and its largest shareholder, founder and CEO Larry Ellison, came close to a long-cherished goal, surpassing Microsoft's Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world.
Beginning in 2004, Ellison set out to increase Oracle's market share through a series of strategic acquisitions. Oracle spent more than $25 billion in only three years to buy a flock of companies and large and small, makers of software for managing data, identity, retail inventory and logistics. The first major acquisition was PeopleSoft, purchased at the end of 2004 for $10.3 billion. No sooner was the ink dry on the PeopleSoft deal than Ellison trumped rival SAP to acquire retail software developer Retek. Within the following year, Oracle also acquired competitor Siebel Systems. Ellison capped his buying spree with the acquisition of business intelligence software provider Hyperion Solutions in 2007.
Today, Lawrence Ellison has his principal home in Woodside, California. He served as President of Oracle from 1978 to 1996, and undertook two stints as Chairman of the Board, from 1990 to 1992, and again from 1995 to 2004. Since its founding, he has been Oracle's only Chief Executive Officer.