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 Amdahl Corporation, he participated in building the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.
In 1977, Ellison and two of his Amdahl 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.
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 yacht, Rising Sun, over 450 feet long, is one of the largest privately owned vessels 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 this buying spree with the acquisition of business intelligence software provider Hyperion Solutions in 2007. Two years later, in the depths of a global recession, Ellison once again acted boldly, acquiring computer hardware and software manufacturer Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion. Oracle became the world's largest business software company, supplying all 100 of of the Fortune Global 100.
After many years of pursuing a victory in the America's Cup yacht race, Ellison triumphed at last in 2010. Ellison joined the crew of the BMW Oracle for the second leg of the two-day competition, when the giant trimaran, with its revolutionary 223-foot wing sail, ended the race five minutes and 25 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Ellison's victory brought the 159-year-old America's Cup, the oldest trophy in international sports, back to the United States for the first time in 15 years.
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. For the company's first 37 years, he was Oracle's only Chief Executive Officer. In 2014, he relinquished the role of CEO, entrusting the post to two longtime associates. He now holds the role of Executive Chairman and continues to serve as Chief Technology Officer. He remains the company's most visible spokesperson.
In 2016, Ellison's personal fortune was estimated at $50 billion, second only to that of Microsoft's Gates. In May of that year, it was announced that Lawrence Ellison would donate $200 million to the University of Southern California to create a new cancer research center in West Los Angeles. The gift matched the largest single donation ever received by the university. The Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine will employ deploy experts in physics, biology, math and engineering in a coordinated effort to prevent, detect and treat cancer.