Ellison, Lawrence J.

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ELLISON, LAWRENCE J. (1944– ), U.S. computer entrepreneur. Born out of wedlock in New York to a Jewish teenager and an Italian-American Air Force pilot, Ellison was raised by an aunt in a lower middle-class Jewish community in Chicago. At the University of Illinois, he was named science student of the year but dropped out of school after his aunt died. He enrolled at the University of Chicago, but also left before graduation. Ellison went to California, where, after a few jobs, he became a computer programmer. He was inspired by a paper on relational database theory, which held that if data could be stored in computers in a less "hierarchical" way, it would be easier to find and use. With two other programmers, Ellison began in 1977 what became the Oracle Corporation, now the foremost producer of computer software for corporate databases. At the time, ibm was doing pioneering research on the subject, but doubted that relational databases were commercially viable. Ellison put together a prototype and made his first sale to the cia. Over the next few years, Oracle found itself on the cutting edge of data storage technology. ibm was wrong and Ellison was right. Relational databases were the future, and Oracle, under strong pressure from Ellison, won marquee-name clients like the National Security Agency and Navy Intelligence before going public in 1986. Ellison turned Oracle into a world leader in producing software that runs large organizations. The initial release of Oracle was Oracle 2, even though there was no Oracle 1. The release number was intended to imply that all of the bugs had been worked out of an earlier version. Ellison was chief executive officer and a director from the time he cofounded the company. He was believed to be one of the richest people in America, with a net worth estimated at $18.7 billion.

Ellison and Oracle developed a reputation for dealing on the edge. It sold software not yet ready for use and blamed customers when things went wrong. In the early 1990s the mistakes caught up with the company and it suffered significant losses. But in 1992 Ellison brought in new leadership and Oracle regained its place in the market. At that time Ellison began focusing on the big picture. In the mid-1990s, when Microsoft was still not appreciating the importance of the Internet, Ellison pushed Oracle to switch over to web-based data storage software. It was a brilliant move, and Oracle rode the Internet to new heights.

Ellison was also the leader and principal financier of Oracle-bmw Racing, which competed for the America's Cup in 1999 and 2003 on behalf of the Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco. Ellison was the winner of the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in his boat Sayonara. The storm that hit the race cost six other sailors their lives, an experience that caused Ellison to swear off ocean racing. Ellison was believed to have the biggest yacht (as of 2004) in the world, named Rising Sun. It was 452.75 feet long and reportedly cost more than $200 million to build.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]