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If you like Lawrence Ellison's story, you might also like:
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Lawrence Ellison in the Achievement Curriculum section:

Lawrence Ellison's
recommended reading: Napoleon

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

Founder & CEO, Oracle Corporation

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  Larry Ellison

Your showmanship and your public image are attributes that have received a lot of comment, both negative and positive. How do you deal with critics, both professionally and personally?

Larry Ellison: There are an enormous number of people in the world who really want standard answers. They want everyone to wear their hair the same way, everyone to conduct business the same way, everyone to dress the same way, everyone to go to the same church. And if you wander out of these norms, people are highly critical, because this is threatening to them. They're living their life one way, and they believe that's the proper way to live their life. If you live your life a different way, and you answer questions differently, that makes them feel very uncomfortable. They say, "Well this person's different from what I am." Then they seem to go a little further, and they say, "This person's different and wrong, and I'm different and right." So people have been very, very critical, and people will be critical of you if you do things a little bit differently. It takes a certain amount of strength not to succumb to fashion.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

How do you persevere through it?

Larry Ellison: I try to think things through. I try to always ask two questions about my personal policies in life. Are they fair, are they morally correct? And do they work? I try to reason things back to first principles. I try to think about things, and come to conclusions and make my own decisions. If someone has a logical criticism and can explain to me why what I'm doing is wrong, and they can convince me, I'll change. If they have good reasons, I'll just alter my behavior. I love it when people point out when I'm wrong, and explain to me why I'm wrong, then change. That's great. I don't want to be wrong. I would love to be right. If I am wrong, I love it when people stop me.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

But sometimes people just throw labels at you and throw criticisms around that are not rational, and they call you names. You can't change behavior that you think is right, just because someone is calling you names, and it's not the conventional way of behavior.

Does it make you feel defensive, or do you just let it go?

Larry Ellison: It depends on what they say. Most of the time I let it go. Sometimes people say things that are so hurtful and so offensive -- or say things that are just patently untrue -- that I feel like I have to defend myself. If someone says something that is factually an error, then I'll defend myself. If it's just calling me a random name, then I forget it.

How important do you think academic success is to one's career?

Larry Ellison Interview Photo
Larry Ellison: Generally, for most people it's important. I think academic success is an advantage, but it by no means assures success in business. If you're an outstanding student you'll probably be reasonably successful in business, but you might not be among the most successful in business, or even in science. The straight-A students certainly have talent, but maybe it would have been better if they'd flunked a sociology course where the professor was just awful, or got a C in a course when it didn't make sense to put in the effort. When we're hiring, we look for people with a strong aptitude in mathematics and physics and music (which is very highly correlated to mathematics), but who can also make judgments as to where they're going to invest their time.

I have a wonderful story about a young man who was near the top of his class at Carnegie-Mellon, and quit the week before he was going to graduate. It was that judgment that he made that set him apart from a lot of the other very top grads that we had hired. He makes his own decisions, and that's a very useful thing. I think corporations need a combination of people; hopefully all are talented. Some are people that really want to please and are easy to manage; others are driven by a drummer only they can hear. They will constantly question my wisdom, and won't be the least bit shy about challenging me, and I hope they'll keep me from making mistakes.

What advice would you give to a kid who said, "I really see myself on the cutting edge of this type of technology, how can I prepare?" Is there anything that you would consider mandatory, in education?

Larry Ellison: I think learning how to program is a wonderful discipline. Computers are unforgivingly logical, and they'll do exactly what you tell them. It's a wonderful training to learn how to program a computer. I would encourage people to take this up.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

It's much more important than handwriting.

Is there a book you've read that particularly affected you?

Larry Ellison: Lots of books. I just finished Vincent Cronin's book on Napoleon, a man who definitely needed better PR. Napoleon codified the laws for the first time in Europe. He was constantly limiting kings and other tyrants. He opened the ghettos and stopped religious discrimination. He was an extraordinary man who wrote a lot of laws himself. He was incredibly polite, generous almost to a fault, a remarkable person who was vilified. By who? The kings that he deposed -- the kings of England, and the old king of France, and the kings of Prussia, and the Tsar of Russia -- were all threatened by this man who was bringing democracy.

I think it's interesting to read this book and look at Napoleon and see how history has treated him. Even the expression "Napoleon complex," Napoleon was average height for a French person. The idea is just preposterous, treating maybe the most gifted man of the 19th century as some kind of despot. He was a liberator, a law-giver, and a man of incredible gifts. He never considered himself a soldier, he considered himself a politician, though he was probably the greatest general in all history.

It's interesting to read about him for a couple of reasons: to see what one man of modest birth can do with his life, and to see how history can distort the truth entirely. The job of historians is often just that, to distort history, because history is based on fashion. So we're changing American history all the time, whatever's politically fashionable. The school districts decide they want to emphasize this person in history, and de-emphasize that person. It's illuminating to understand that even history is based on fashion. Even morality -- popular morality -- is based on fashion. Real morality is based on reason, and never make the mistake between the two.

What does the American Dream mean to you?

Larry Ellison: Let me start by saying that this is a great country.

The opportunity in this country is astounding. Everyone who works hard and a maybe little cleverly has the opportunity to make almost anything possible. That's the American Dream, that anything here is possible. We are not held back. Immigrants come here, and in a single generation do extraordinary things. This country is not perfect, but compare it with every other country in the world, and it's absolutely fabulous. There's unlimited opportunity. It requires hard work, it requires a little bit of luck. But still, in America, anything is possible.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Thank you so much for talking with us.

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This page last revised on Oct 20, 2010 15:38 EST
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