Larry Highest Paid CEO? Damn Right.
It's not everyday you find yourself defending a guy that everyone else hates. Oh wait. Actually, I tend to do that a lot. I even found myself doing that last night! But most of them, I defend because I've gotten to know them well enough that I know they don't deserve their public reps. That is not the case with Mr. Ellison.
In the entire time I've been a reporter in Silicon Valley-- including covering Oracle for BusinessWeek-- I've never gotten to interview Larry in person, for a variety of reasons we won't go into here. I've even flown cross country to meet him and it hasn't happened.
But in my time covering Oracle, I have learned one thing: He may not deserve how much he's making, but he deserves to be one of the most highly paid CEOs in the Valley.
Let's look at what he has accomplished:
1. Built a successful publicly-traded technology company. Ok, thousands of people have done that.
2. Managed to go from founder to chief executive and stay chief executive even as the company grew to the second largest software company in the world. Is still chief executive today. Um, Ok no one else has done that. Even Ellison's close friend Steve Jobs left and came back. Bill Gates hasn't been CEO for a long time.
3. Successfully expanded his company from one dominant product line. Mostly. Ok, databases are still the bulk of the company. But failing initially with business applications and other products didn't stop Larry from relentlessly building out those product lines even if he had to buy every other company in softwaredom to get there. Only the most storied Valley companies have done that. This is usually where tech companies stumble. They do one thing well, and have no follow up act, and slowly become irrelevant.
4. Ellison gets where software is going. What are the most breakout business software companies of recent years? You could argue Salesforce.com and NetSuite-- both of which Larry seeded back when no one thought software as a service was a viable business. I don't know any CEOs at that level who have that kind of golden touch as an angel investor too. Not to say they don't exist-- I'm just not aware of them.
5. He also gets where the technology business is going. Remember back in 2004 or so when he kept telling everyone software was a mature business and it was going to consolidate and people thought he was crazy? Remember the first ever "hostile" software deal and how everyone said hostile deals would never work in software because people are so important? First off, PeopleSoft did work. Second, the whole tech industry has followed suit. There are few CEOs who get the business and technical halves of their industries that well.
Look, I have a lot of good friends who loathe Larry Ellison, who have been wronged by him, who will probably be horrified by this post. And I have every reason to hate him: He's that one, stupid Moby Dick interview that I've never been able to land in nearly ten years of reporting on the Valley. (Although truth be told, I only covered Oracle a few of those years and they were the years he was hardly speaking to anyone. Still.)
But shareholders are not electing him president or best friend. They're paying him to be a good CEO, and he may be one of the only ones worth what he's being paid. Can you imagine what would have become of Oracle with, say, one-time successors Ray Lane or Gary Bloom at the helm? He definitely deserves to be higher paid than EMC's Joe Tucci, Intel's Paul Otellini, or Cisco's John Chambers. Just look at the stock prices! If he was peddling sexy iPods, not boring business software, we'd hear about his "genius" daily, not his legendary playboy, free-spending ways. Or at least, not just his playboy, free-spending ways.
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