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Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison
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Larry Ellison Interview (page: 4 / 5)

Founder & CEO, Oracle Corporation

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  Larry Ellison

What is the biggest obstacle you've ever had to face in your professional life? Was there a time that you thought you actually might fail?

Larry Ellison: There were lots of times, especially in the early days, that were very, very difficult. I think the most difficult experience I had was in 1990 when Oracle had its only loss quarter in history. We've been in business for 20 years, and after 20 years we lost money one quarter. We had a very difficult time. We had virtually doubled our sales every year for ten years. Nine out of ten years, ten out of eleven years. It was really quite an amazing run. We were the fastest growing company in history, and still are the fasting growing company in history over a long period of time.

Suddenly we hit a wall. We reached a billion dollars in revenue, and we were having serious management problems all over the place. The people who were running the company, the billion dollar company, were the same people that had run the company when we were a 15 million dollar company, one twentieth the size. I had an incredible sense of loyalty to those people who had worked with me to build Oracle. It was a very painful realization in 1990 that I was going to have to change the management team. The company had outgrown the management. People who are good at running a 15 million dollar company don't use the same skills. They're just different, not one is better or worse, just an entirely different skill set in running a 15 million dollar company than a billion dollar company. Both skill sets are rare and precious. But we needed a different group of managers, and virtually the entire management team had to be replaced. That means I had to ask people who I had worked with for a decade to leave. I had to fire people. That was the most difficult thing I had to do in business, asking a bunch of people to leave Oracle.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

What kept you going through that time?

Larry Ellison: That I had no choice. I had to ask them to leave Oracle, or everyone had to leave Oracle, because there wouldn't be any Oracle left. In that sense, it was a simple choice. Thousands of people worked for Oracle. They deserved the best leadership you could find. My primary responsibility was to the company and to all of the staff, all of our shareholders, and all of our customers. Therefore, I had to choose. And if I couldn't make that decision, then I had to go.

Have you ever been deeply afraid?

Larry Ellison: Deeply afraid? Yes, only once.

The most deeply afraid I can ever remember being was once my mother came -- I might have been six -- and I went to school, and my mother came home very late from work. It was six o'clock, so no one was home. I was very worried that my mother wouldn't come home, and I was deeply afraid. That's the only time I can remember being deeply afraid. I was also making deals with God, if he would return her to me.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

With all of the risk that you take in your professional and your personal life, how do you deal with the fear factor?

Larry Ellison Interview Photo
Larry Ellison: There's a mild degree of fear; a sociobiologist would tell you that fear is the prevalent human emotion. I certainly feel a little stress, if I just bought a jet fighter and I'm flying it for the very first time, and doing aerobatics very low to the ground. I wouldn't call it fear, but it's a little bit of a rush. That gets the adrenaline going, and I thrive on it. I don't really call that fear. That's a somewhat pleasant experience for me. Extreme fear is awful, but out-on-the-edge a little bit, where you have a mild sensation of apprehension and concern, is something I actually enjoy.

You had so many questions about your parents' values, do you think that independence you had as a child had something to do with developing your self-confidence?

Larry Ellison: No doubt. We're constantly testing ourselves. We're trying to understand our own level of competency; our ability to control our own world; our ability to put ourselves at risk, and then save our own lives. There's always an element of risk. You're risking your ego when you play in a chess match; you're risking your ego, and sometimes your life, when you're doing certain kinds of flying. But I really don't do things that endanger my life when I fly.

We were in a very nasty boat race, from Sidney to Hobart, where we were in a storm for 14 hours. But I really never felt like I was going to die. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to die, because literally everyone on board got pretty sick. They're all professional sailors. It was a horrible storm; we had a lot professional sailors who were puking. But I never really felt the same kind of deep fear that I felt as a child.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What about fear of failure?

Larry Ellison: Oh, absolutely. I think most over achievers are driven, not so much by the pursuit of success, but by the fear of failure. Unless failure gets very close and very nearby that fear doesn't reach profound levels, but it drives us. It drives me to work very hard. It drives me to make sure that my life is orderly, that I'm in control of my company, or in control of the airplane or boat or what-have-you, so that I'm not at risk of failure. Whenever I feel even remotely close to being at risk of failure, I can't stop working.

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