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Sep 20 2014

Larry Ellison Gives Up Oracle Pilot Seat

In a somewhat surprising move, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison gave up his CEO position on Thursday after 37 years at the helm, exchanging it for the new tasks of Executive Chairman (EC) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Splitting CEO responsibilities between the two of them, former co-presidents Safra Catz and Mark Hurd will take over, both taking the CEO title proper. Jeff Henley, who was EC for the last 10 years, will remain on the Board as Vice Chairman.

Together with Bob Miner and Ed Oates, Ellison founded Oracle in 1977, under the name Software Development Laboratories (SDL). One year later, SDL finished the first version of its later namesake, the Oracle database, written in assembly language for then-leading PHP-11 computers as part of a CIA project for their former employer Ampex. However, this version was never officially released; the first commercial version, Oracle 2, was shipped in June 1979 to a U.S. air force base. And from there, one of those late-70's success stories in computing took off, turning both Oracle (the product) and Oracle (the company) into household names – and its outspoken leader into a popular figure even outside the IT world, just like his contemporaries Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Oracle's official press release gave no reason for Ellison's unexpected departure as CEO, which occurs right after his 70th birthday following a difficult year for the company. Unlike the younger Gates, who quit as Microsoft CEO in 2000 and as the company's Chief Software Architect in 2006, he'll keep working full time for Oracle, since the Board did not only elect him Executive Chairman, but also Chief Technical Officer. In this capacity, Ellison remains in charge of Oracle's soft- and hardware engineering, and may focus on technology and product development as well as strategy. Yet with more time on his hands, Ellison – who currently ranks as the fifth-wealthiest person in the world – may also devote more time to his more or less exotic hobbies, such as flying, yachting (he won the America's Cup in 2010 and 2013) and acting (he made a cameo appearance alongside Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man 2 in 2010).

Safra Catz, already in charge of manufacturing, finance and legal functions, will continue with these, just as Mark Hurd keeps handling sales, services, and vertical industry global business units.

Ellison's partial departure may have been inspired by Oracle's less-than-satisfying financial results: Total revenues were up a mere 2.68% in the last quarter, which counts as the first in the company's financial 2015, and its net income remained flat at $2.18 billion. According to various sources, the company is struggling on several fronts, with its hardware and cloud businesses not developing fast enough and the an otherwise healthy core software business being unable to make up for unseized opportunities. For more background information, please check out the reports at Computerworld and The Register.


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