The meanest things Larry Ellison ever said

The longtime Oracle CEO may be taking on a lighter workload, but we assume his sharp tongue won't be stilled.

Credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Larry Ellison recently stepped down as the CEO of Oracle, although he'll remain executive chairman and CTO of the company, and, as he put it, "I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing over the last several years." Tech observers who love drama are hoping that one of those things he's going to continue doing will be dish out catty remarks on his rivals in the tech industry. But in case he's planning on getting soft in his semi-retirement, let's take a look back at some of the meaner things he's said in his decades on the scene.

Credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Larry loves company

Ellison said this by way of semi-apology at the 2013 company shareholder meeting, responding to a woman who complained that she had to call the company's investor relations office multiple times just to find out when the meeting was. While the company may love to see investors' smiling faces and even deigns to provide snacks, they aren't quite as interested in their feedback: when Ellison's compensation package was rejected by shareholders in a non-binding vote, Oracle chose not to be bound by it and paid Ellison what he asked for.

Credit: Oracle Co-CEO Mark Hurd. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Larry's two-headed monster

Speaking of that Oracle shareholder meeting, one of those shareholders there was a little curious why whole countries can get by with only one president but Oracle needs two of them. Ellison rather flippantly pointed out that this means that Oracle is one president better than any single-presidented institution. ("Seriously, it's a large company," he added. "We have a separation of responsibilities.") The co-presidents have now been promoted to co-CEOs to replace Ellison.

Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Wait, who are the roaches in Larry's analogy?

Ellison doesn't just pick on his own shareholders; he also has unkind words for his rivals, taking particular glee in needling Salesforce.com. In announcing a new suite of cloud offerings in 2011 and emphasizing that Oracle's cloud services were based on industry standards -- unlike Salesforce.com's, which trapped you with nefarious vendor lock-in. "You can check in, but you can't check out," as Ellison put it. (Nobody has ever accused Oracle of vendor lock-in, of course.)

Credit: Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Larry wants cloud credit

Why is Ellison so touchy about Salesforce.com? Well, part of it is that he thinks he doesn't get enough credit for inventing the whole category of cloud computing, because Salesforce.com gets too much credit. "I think I started the first cloud company," he told an audience in San Francisco this past January. "It's called NetSuite. It's a year older than Salesforce.com." At All Things D two years ago, he made the bolder claim that Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff "kind of" copied the idea after finding out what NetSuite was doing. (And a few years before that, he was making fun of the whole concept of cloud computing, of course.)

Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Larry dishes out disrespect

In Ellison's telling, at least Salesforce.com was smart enough to copy his brilliant cloud computing ideas. German applications giant SAP, a frequent object of Ellison's scorn (and Oracle's legal department) couldn't even get that right. "Ninety-nine percent of their business is ERP, and they haven't rebuilt it for the cloud," Ellison said disparagingly. "They haven't even started. It's very hard for me to think of SAP as a competitor."

Credit: Leo Apotheker. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Larry vs. Leo

Ellison's scorn for former SAP and HP head Leo Apotheker is also well known. When HP fired its CEO (and Ellison friend) Mark Hurd and replaced him with Apotheker, Ellison said "I'm speechless ... HP had several good internal candidates ... but instead they pick a guy who was recently fired because he did such a bad job of running SAP." When Oracle subpoenaed Apotheker in a lawsuit over events at SAP under his tenure, the new HP head went on an international tour to talk to HP customers, seemingly to avoid giving testimony. Apotheker's HP tenure didn't last long after his return in the wake of the failed Autonomy acquisition, leading to Ellison's snarky remark.

Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Larry laughs at your little open source project

Ellison doesn't just heap scorn on corporate competitors; he'll also take the time to let you know why your enthusiasm for open source projects is also misplaced. When Hadoop was first making waves in the big data arena, Ellison wanted everyone to know that it couldn't possibly represent a challenge to Oracle's flagship database. "It's batch processing," he said dismissively. "If you want to know someone's phone number [in Hadoop], come back the next day." Oracle will now sell you a Hadoop appliance, by the way.

Credit: REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz
Larry says Oracle is unbreakable

Oracle owes its existence to the American intelligence establishment. In the 1970s, Ellison and the other co-founders of the company worked as contractors on a CIA project code-named "Oracle"; they later struck out on their own and founded their own company, with the CIA as their first customer, and they've done plenty of business with the Agency since. Thus, it's not a surprise that Ellison was no fan of Edward Snowden, and boasted that the whistleblower wouldn't have been able to hack into his database. The information Snowden leaked came from material he already had access to as part of his job, of course, but maybe an Oracle database would've had better access control policies.

Larry gets philosophical

Never let it be said that Ellison is all mean, though. In Steve Jobs, he had a sharp-tongued kindred spirit; the two men were next-door neighbors and close friends. At the first All Things D conference after Job's death, Ellison mused that Jobs was the sort of person that you couldn't just up and decide to imitate, showing his deep respect for his friend's unique vision.