Towards the end of WW2, many Jewish people in Europe lived in fear of the reality of the Holocaust. Though the Jewish woman Florence Spellman was safe from Nazis in the Bronx, she had her own battle to face: giving birth to a baby outside of wedlock. Though this seems to pale in comparison for us in 2020, it was life-altering for a woman to give birth outside of marriage in the 1940s. Larry Ellison was born on August 17th, 1944 in the Bronx to a single mother. Later, at 9 months old, Ellison contracted pneumonia and Ms. Spellman opted to give her baby up for adoption to his aunt and uncle, Lillian and Louis Ellison. Though the Russian immigrant Louis (who took the name “Ellison” as a result of entering via Ellis Island) eventually went on to build himself a small fortune that he ultimately lost in the Great Depression, the family was poor while raising Ellison. Ellison grew up in a Jewish reformed family in Chicago. While his (adoptive) mother was warm and loving, Ellison has described his (adoptive) father as cold and icy. Ellison has noted that he felt underestimated by his father. The societal norm for him at the time was to become a doctor like a good Jewish boy was expected to do. Not only did Ellison not wish to follow this path, but he also rejected his religious upbringing as he got older, refusing to have the traditional Jewish Bar Mitzvah at age 13.
The grit and ambition we see in Ellison today were not yet apparent in Ellison’s teenage years, as is the case for many young people. Ellison did graduate high school though and he went on to study successfully at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for two years before his mother died of cancer. This likely affected him deeply alongside what he has cited as a lack of concentration and respect for authority. He did later re-enroll in classes, this time at the University of Chicago for Math and Physics, only to drop out again without completing a college degree. One thing he learned in college courses though proved to be useful on his path to success: computer programming.
Ellison’s next move was very strategic. He moved to the upcoming tech haven that would eventually become Silicon Valley and began working numerous jobs that allowed him to learn and improve his coding and programming along the way. He was given tasks that he could complete in short spans of time, which allowed him to be successful in spite of his attention deficiencies. He discovered a lifestyle he enjoyed and thrived moving from company to company. Besides building a network in the hub for tech, Ellison had another great opportunity early in his career: he given a contract to build a CIA database called “Oracle”. This gave him access to technical possibilities not widely available at the time.
Once Ellison found the company that eventually become known as “Oracle” (after the flagship product), he made several strategic moves. His offices were located in the same space as venture capitalists, which provided tremendous networking opportunities over lunch and casual encounters on a daily basis. Ellison knew the power of branding before it became a marketing staple and leveraged that. Though the developments at Oracle were not the most innovative in the market, the combination of networking and branding positioned Oracle into a position of strength, leading the way for Ellison to do what he does best: make smart investments.
From investing in small startups such as salesforce.com to buying companies when prices were low following the dot com bubble. Likely his most notable purchase was Netsuite in 2016. Having made a $125 million investment in the company in 1998, the purchase of the company left him with a massive $3.5 billion net sum. In addition to his smart investments, Ellison is known for demanding professionalism and nothing less. While he always paid competitive salaries, he always expected the top of the line work and nothing less. He applied a “slow to hire” and “quick to fire” approach that weeded out unmotivated and unskilled workers. Despite some business roadblocks (massive layoff in 1990, the dot com bubble, product issues in the 2000’s, and reduced spending after the 9-11 terrorist attacks) Ellison’s focus on the company’s vision rather than the current situation helped as well.
According to Forbes, Ellison’s net worth as of October 15th, 2020 is $80.5 billion.