Great book about Larry Ellison, the founder of the well known global company called Oracle Inc. The book is written by Matthew Symonds, who is the editor of The Economist publication. He followed Ellison closely for over two years to write this book. What is very special about the book, Larry had an agreement with the author to have editorial rights to add his own commentary in the form of footnotes in the chapters. This structure made the book very entertaining, especially on the Kindle reader, where you can read Larry's comments in between the lines. I really enjoyed getting his perspective on some of the book's statements. I loved reading the book so much that I've bought a physical copy.
Summarizing this book is very hard. It describes Larry's upbringing and the origin story of Oracle. The company was the first to commercialize SQL databases. Larry had read research on the SQL query language and brought it to the enterprise market. The first project they did as a company was for the intelligence agencies of the united states.
The project was code-named "Oracle," which he later changed the name of his company. The oracle database is, to this day, one of the most advanced databases and is used by many enterprise companies.
Larry was truly one of the greatest CEO in the technology industry and is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. He was and is a visionary, his prediction of the network computer, a stripped-down computer that did not have much more than a web browser on it, did not reach broad adoption at the time (1996-2000). The cost of personal computers fell so much that it did not make sense to buy a less powerful computer that only had a browser. But when we look at how we work today, he was totally right. Almost everyone that works on a computer is mainly using the web browser, and most apps are available through the web.
As CEO of Oracle, Larry was always running the product division and was very involved with product roadmap decisions. He made the call to move from client-server to web-based applications, which also turned out to be right.
Larry has a very competitive mindset. He always has to win. In the software business, he was competing with the number one, Microsoft. Even in his life outside of Oracle, he had very demanding hobbies like flying and competitive sailing. The book detailed some fascinating stories of the races on the high-speed sailing boats. Elison was also best friends with Steve Jobs.
To better summarize the book, I will add some comments to my favorite quotes from the book.
Neither of us would be able to alter the words of the other. It is a
unique form of joint copyright.
Author, about the book commentary agreement with Ellison.
It’s also an opportunity to expound on a core Ellison theme: “the war against complexity.” Software has to be made much more simple. Computing has become so complex that customers have to hire experts just to explain the industry’s products.
Even more than 20 years ago, Larry made an effort to reduce complexity.
recommended by the application server group’s Thomas Kurian, a young Indian who’s a rising star at Oracle.
The "rising star" at Oracle is now CEO of Google Cloud.
always feel good when everyone says I’m nuts because it’s a sign that we’re trying to do something innovative—something truly new and different. On the other hand, when people say you’re nuts, you just might be nuts. You’ve got to constantly guard against that possibility. You don’t want people saying you’re nuts too often—once every three or four years is good.
Modern application design must focus on one piece of information—customer orders—and then layer on all processes that touch the order information: taking the order, billing the customer, initiating customer service, marketing additional services to that customer, and so on. It’s not the process at the center, it’s the data.
Ellison began to realize that not for the first time, in his eagerness to carve out just the portion of the CEO’s job that he enjoyed, he had delegated too much power and responsibility. It’s a characteristic of Ellison that when he thinks he has found someone who is competent and who can help him, he invests an excessive amount of faith in his or her ability.
We’re the second largest applications company in the world. How come we have so many custom applications? And if I need these applications to run the business, why aren’t they part of the product suite?’ We looked at each other: Yeah, that’s a damn good question.
Larry looked inside Oracle and found that the company itself had lots of different third party applications to run their business.
Now, most people hate to admit they’re wrong, but it didn’t bother Bill one bit. All he cared about was what was right, not who was right. That’s what makes Bill very, very dangerous.
Larry about a long argument he had with Bill Gates in a meeting. Bill then called Larry later that day to tell him that Larry's point of view was in fact right.
It’s not a desktop browser war, it’s a server software war. I don’t think that we can beat Microsoft on the desktop, and I don’t care. We’re a server software company.
I can’t work unless I work out. I can’t push myself mentally unless I push myself physically.
Larry's physical and mental fitness is very inspirational.
people who had very intense work lives often found relaxing difficult and that the best they could do was to find some alternative stress that so fully engaged their attention that it drove everything else out of their mind. Ellison said, “That’s certainly true for me. I’d never heard the expression ‘alternative stress’ until you said it, but it immediately struck me as a perfect explanation for all my hobbies.
Ellison dreads the kind of relationship in which two people almost merge into one: “The happier you are with your separate and independent life, the better your relationship is likely to be.
He is ultraconfrontational in business. But he goes to almost any lengths to avoid confrontation at a personal level. He either delegates to the point of detachment or is obsessively controlling down to the last detail. He prides himself on never losing his temper. But he is manifestly driven by overwhelming passions.
The finality of the defeat is hard to describe. All the time and effort you spent wasn’t enough. You weren’t smart enough. You weren’t good enough. You lost. It’s over. Go home. It’s a vacant, numb feeling. You congratulate the winners and slip away as quickly and as quietly as you can. As you leave you can hear the cheering—but they’re not cheering for you. You just don’t matter anymore. Your race is over. I hate that feeling. I hate being beaten. Especially when I know it was because of mistakes I made.
Larry on losing. About a sailing race and in life in general.