Inspiring story of a poor boy who became the founder of ORACLE

Santosh Gaikwad
Latest posts by Santosh Gaikwad (see all)


There is a saying, “it is always darkest before the dawn”, so true for few great people who refuse to bow down the circumstances in which they take birth. Is there any single mantra for success? Not really, as per these people, there is no shortcut to success.

There are so many people who became successful despite being born in dirt poverty, similar is a story of the founder of Oracle Corporation.

Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison

LARRY ELLISON, the founder of Oracle Corporation who is drawing a salary of approximately $41 million and is net worth of $55 billion as on year 2017, was born in dirt poverty. Today he is licensed pilot and owns two military jets, 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai. He was not exposed to computers in his childhood and didn’t have any inherent advantage early in life. He was first introduced to computer design during his second attempt at university.

He stepped down as a CEO of Oracle corporation in 2014, but continues to be executive chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle.

Larry Ellison has donated up to 1% of his wealth and is taking part in The Giving Pledge commitment campaign.

One of his following quote really defines him as a person, and his giving pledge commitment proves that.

“When I started Oracle, what I wanted to do was to create an environment where I would enjoy working. That was my primary goal. Sure, I wanted to make a living. I certainly never expected to become rich, certainly not this rich. I mean, rich does not even describe this. This is surreal. And it has nothing to do with money. I mean, you buy clothes with money, and cars. But I really wanted to work with people I enjoyed working with, who I admired and liked.” – Larry Ellison

A victim of poverty and parenting failure in his childhood

Larry Ellison as a child
Larry Ellison as a child

Larry Ellison was born on August 17, 1944 to an unmarried mother in USA, New York. He was abandoned by his biological father and has never ever met him. Probably that was not enough, he was only nine months old when he contracted pneumonia, and his mother also decided to abandon him and gave him to her aunt and uncle for adoption, he did not meet her again until he was 48. In fact he did not come to know that he was adopted until he was 12. It was a complete parenting failure from his parent’s side.

His Journey as a child with his adoptive parents

He was now moved to Chicago, for his life’s new journey and challenges. His adoptive mother as warm and loving, but on the contrary his adoptive father was harsh, unsupportive, and often distant, who adopted the name Ellison to honor his point of entry into the United States, Ellis Island.

He was raised in a Reform Jewish home by his adoptive parents. He is a religious skeptic and hence at age thirteen, Ellison refused to have a bar mitzvah celebration which is a ritual in Jewish law, when Jewish boys become 13 years old, they become accountable for their actions. But Larry still loves Jewish country Israel, but he says he is not connected to religious sentiments, but rather due to the innovative spirit of Israelis in the technology sector.

After completing his schooling from South Shore High School in 1962, he was enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, he wanted to become a doctor, “Speaking at the University of Southern California’s commencement ceremony, Ellison said his plan was to attend the USC medical school, get married, raise a family, and move to Los Angles to become a doctor, which was considered the pinnacle of professions on the south side of Chicago”. But his fate had planned something else for him. After two years of college, his adoptive mother died of cancer and he had to drop out of college, he could not even take his final exams.

Ellison later enrolled at the University of Chicago, intending to pursue a degree in physics and mathematics but he dropped out after just one quarter, and later moved to California. His father was convinced his son would never amount to anything.

His struggle as a college dropout

After moving to California in 1966, Ellison started computer programming, worked as a rock-climbing instructor and river guide. He worked at various jobs, mostly related to computers. He was pretty happy with his life. The future entrepreneur was at that point not very ambitious.

Every day I learn something new and something interesting, I did not know the day before, I liked that,” – Larry Ellison

He married Adda Quinn in 1967, shortly after meeting her at a Berkeley employment agency. They lived in a one room apartment for three years. In 1970’s he started working with a small company called Ampex.

His wife saw him as a college dropout, who lacked ambition, and eventually couple divorced in 1974. According to Mike Wilson’s book “The Difference between God and Larry Ellison”, it was that time when he decided to become a millionaire, he had never talked about money or any concrete success before.

His journey towards success

Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison

He continued to work with computers, eventually learning a lot about programming IBM machines. He kept on switching jobs, now in pursuit of becoming a millionaire.

Important turning point of life was to work with Ampex, while working at a company he met Robert Miner and Edward Oates who later became friends.

Ampex was in the field of data, storage, and processing. This company got a project from Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to maintain a database of information on videotape rather than traditional magnetic tape, as computers could store information, but managing it and recalling it was a complicated and inefficient process using magnetic tapes. Ampex had a machine which could search and rewind videotape at high speed.

At Ampex these three friends worked on writing a database program for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), they wrote the program which was called Oracle.

Larry then left Ampex for a pursuing another bigger position in sales and marketing at another company, but he remained friends with Oates and Miner, three of them used to meet for lunch.

Starting of Oracle Corporation

Larry again switched and ended up as vice president of a small firm called Precision Instruments Co. which was working on a project similar to Ampex, trying to find a way to store and retrieve masses of data, but with more advanced storage called microfilm. For writing such software, company wanted to hire a vendor, Larry sensed the opportunity here and reached out to his friends convinced them to get into business with him, and then three of them formed a company called Software Development Laboratories in 1977.

The new company was solely writing programs for Precision Instruments, and its office was inside the building of that company. As Ellison initiated the venture, took 60 percent of the shares, with other two friends each taking 20 percent.

Larry still had lot of interest in programming with IBM machines and he was still tracking the trends with IBM. While they were busy writing Precision Instruments software, they discovered that programmers at IBM had been working on what was called a relational database, a software which could be queried, or asked to retrieve certain pieces of information. Until then there was no concept of data query, databases were mostly used for storing information.

When a paper published by IBM on the relational database program appeared in a trade journal, Ellison and his partners got very interested. They decided to finish their contract work for Precision Instruments, and build a software product and sell that to whoever wanted it. Using the IBM paper, they figured out how to write their own relational database software and they named it as Oracle, after the CIA project they had worked on earlier.

They moved company to new location and changed its name to Relational Software Inc. (RSI). Its first customer outside of Precision Instruments was the CIA, they also sold a copy of its new database program to the Navy. The CIA used IBM computers as well as other brands, so they decided to make Oracle to work with whatever equipment a company uses.

Growth of Oracle

Ellison had gained the knowledge of marketing and sales while working at different jobs, decided to market the product. He demonstrated Oracle at trade shows and started training corporate technical staff. By 1982, the company employed several engineers, and achieved sales target of $2.4 million and very soon Oracle surpassed its competitors. In 1986 RSI became a public company, taking the name of its software, Oracle. Oracle and Microsoft went public almost same time. Oracle achieved sales of $1 billion annually between 1992 and 1998.

Oracle Headquarter
Oracle Headquarter

Larry Ellison’s personal life has always been a roller coaster ride; he has been married 4 times.

What to learn from him

1. College Degree and good grades are not really mandatory if you follow your passion.

2. Have a fighting spirit, no matter what comes on your way, you should always keep on fighting.

3. You have to be generous and think of giving, then only nature will give you back, he has signed a giving pledge organized by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and planning to give away his 50% of net worth.

4. Never stop learning, if he would have stopped learning, he would have not thought of building relational database just by reading published paper from IBM.

5. Be friend with like minded people and let others go away who want to.

Advice to youngsters 

His advice to youngsters is to never be afraid to experiment and try lots of different things and to never let people discourage you when they challenge the status quo.

“Each of you has a chance to discover who you are, rather than who you should be, a chance to live your dreams, not the dreams of others.” – Larry Ellison

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