Who Is Larry Ellison?

By WILL KENTON Updated March 17, 2022Reviewed by JEFREDA R. BROWNFact checked by ARIEL COURAGE

Larry Ellison is the American CEO who co-founded the software giant, Oracle Corporation, in 1977. Under his leadership, Oracle grew from a start-up with three programmers into the largest supplier of database software and the second-largest supplier of business applications in the world.

Oracle’s massive growth during his tenure has been driven by an impressive track record of identifying and cornering new markets. He has also led a series of highly strategic acquisitions of software companies, including Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion in 2010 and NetSuite for $9.3 billion in 2016.12 Since he retired as CEO in 2014, he has served as Chair of the Board and Chief Technology Officer.


  • Larry Ellison is the founder of Oracle, the software giant that created the first commercially viable relational database.
  • Under his leadership, Oracle grew into the largest supplier of database software and the second-largest supplier of business applications in the world.
  • Despite occasional upsets, the company grew steadily until 1992, when its database system Oracle 7 took off in a major way, moving the company to the top of its field and making Ellison a billionaire.
  • He served as CEO of Oracle through 2014; he currently serves as Board Chair and Chief Technology Officer.
  • As of Dec. 10, 2021, Ellison was the ninth richest person in the world, with a net worth of $119.5 billion, according to Bloomberg.3
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Larry Ellison
Alison Czinkota / Investopedia

Education and Early Career

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Born in New York City in 1944 to an unmarried, teenage mother, Ellison was brought up on the South Side of Chicago by his mother’s uncle and aunt, who adopted him as a baby. After dropping out of the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago without a degree, Ellison spent almost a decade writing computer code for a series of clients that included the tech companies, Ampex and Amdahl, where he worked on the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.

The Idea that Launched Oracle

The idea that launched Oracle came to Ellison while he was reading about relational databases in an IBM research paper that proposed a new way of organizing large volumes of data to make the information easy to access. Although IBM had not yet taken the idea out of the research stage, Ellison immediately saw the enormous commercial potential of relational databases to transform how enterprises operate.4

In 1977, Ellison and his former Ampex colleagues, Bob Miner and Ed Oates, used $2,000 of their own money to found Software Development Laboratories, the company that later became Oracle.5 Over the next two years, Ellison and his team built the first commercial structured query language (SQL), which is a standardized programming language to manage and access the data held in large relational databases.6

Key to their early success was winning a $50,000 contract from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1978 to develop a relational database management system (RDBMS), a project code-named Oracle. When Oracle 2, the first commercially viable relational database, was released in 1979, the CIA was one of its first customers. When Software Development Laboratories was renamed in 1983, Ellison took the name “Oracle” from this early contract for the CIA.6

IPO and Oracle 7

After taking Oracle public in 1986, Ellison navigated the company through major turmoil, including posting its first loss in 1990 and revelations about deceptive sales accounting that sunk the market valuation. With bankruptcy looming, Ellison completely overhauled the company to get Oracle back on track.

By 1992, Ellison had introduced a popular version of the database system called Oracle 7, which swept the company to the crest of the database management market. Banks, corporations, governments, airlines, automakers, and retailers all depended on Oracle 7—and The Wall Street Journal called Ellison the world’s highest-paid executive in 2000, with total compensation of $1.84 billion.7 After surviving the dot-com bubble, Oracle’s market capitalization nearly tripled during the 2000s, to $98 billion.8

Strategic Acquisitions

Another driver of Oracle’s growth has been Ellison’s leadership of a series of strategic software acquisitions that expanded Oracle’s market share across industries: Sun Microsystems (information technology); Hyperion Solutions (business intelligence); Retek (retail); Siebel Systems (customer relationship management); and PeopleSoft (human resources, financial, supply chain, enterprise performance, customer relationship management).

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure

By 2020, Ellison had positioned Oracle’s network architecture to handle the explosive growth of cloud-based enterprise tech companies during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. In April 2020, Zoom, the enterprise video communications leader, chose Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to support massive increases in service capacity. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan chose Oracle Cloud Infrastructure because of its industry-leading security, outstanding performance, and unmatched level of support.”9

Outmaneuvering Rivals

Throughout his career, Ellison has been famous for outmaneuvering rivals by identifying and cornering new markets that they had overlooked. In the 1980s, when IBM began to develop SQL software to compete with Oracle, he took advantage of the fact that the SQL products that IBM was developing worked only with IBM servers. Ellison, on the other hand, prioritized the emerging market for relational database systems that would run on any of the new computers targeting business and government users.

The Advent of the Internet

Ellison was also one of the first to anticipate the revolutionary impact that the advent of the internet would have on the business world. In 1995, when he predicted the eventual decline of personal computers as the internet began to transform business, few believed him.10 However, the changes he implemented to get ahead of the curve put Oracle in an ideal position to profit from the dot.com boom. By 2000, Oracle was one of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley—and Ellison briefly replaced Bill Gates as the world’s richest person.

Internet Platforms

Starting in 1997, Ellison began to focus Oracle’s strategy exclusively on essential business software platforms for the Internet. This was considered extremely risky, due to the danger of alienating existing customers not ready for such a major shift.

Integrated eBusiness Software Packages: Ellison also realized that, since most developers design “best-of-breed” software specialized for only one specific area of business, Oracle had an opportunity to dominate the industry by developing integrated e-business packages that transformed business efficiency.

Cyber Defense and The Future of Cloud: After releasing Oracle Public Cloud to support the company’s software platforms in 2011, Ellison led the 2018 launch of Oracle’s Gen 2 Cloud, a second-generation cloud built to help enterprises run demanding workloads securely. To address the urgent issue of cyber defense, he also launched fully automated Oracle Cloud Infrastructure security services to remediate threats and Oracle Autonomous Database to scan for security threats and prevent cyberattacks and data theft.

Why Is Larry Ellison a Business Legend?

After dropping out of two universities in the 1960s, Ellison founded a company in 1977 that would later become Oracle. Under his leadership, Oracle has grown into a mammoth firm that employs over 135,000 people and boasted annual revenues of $40 billion in 2021.11 In addition to driving the massive growth of his own company since its founding, Ellison has defined how the global business sector uses big data by developing and launching products used by all of the 100 largest public companies in the world and by 430,000 customers in 175 countries.12

What Is Larry Ellison’s Net Worth?

As of Dec. 10, 2021, Ellison was the ninth richest person in the world, with a net worth of $119.5 billion, according to Bloomberg.3 In addition to owning more than 40% of Oracle, he owns stakes in Tesla, NetSuite, and Leapfrog Enterprises.

Ellison is famous for extravagant spending, including buying 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai, spending $194 million on a yacht, and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury real estate in Malibu. He also built a California estate modeled on 16th-century Japanese feudal architecture.13

What Are Larry Ellison’s Charitable Causes?

Ellison has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, including $200 million to the University of Southern California for a cancer treatment research center in 2016.14 He also signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, a campaign launched by Warren Buffett to encourage fellow billionaires to contribute most of their wealth to charitable causes.15

The Bottom Line

Larry Ellison is a visionary business leader who built Oracle from a start-up into one of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley, with 2021 revenues of over $40 billion.

He had the foresight to position Oracle for dominance by developing a broad range of integrated software packages: from relationship databases, applications, servers, and storage to the cloud.

When Ellison predicted in the 1990s that the internet would be the future of computing, he led the industry in the development of internet-compatible business applications, which gave Oracle a distinct advantage.Compete Risk Free with $100,000 in Virtual CashPut your trading skills to the test with our FREE Stock Simulator. Compete with thousands of Investopedia traders and trade your way to the top! Submit trades in a virtual environment before you start risking your own money. Practice trading strategies so that when you’re ready to enter the real market, you’ve had the practice you need. Try our Stock Simulator today >>