A publicity masterpiece

Larry Ellison’’s game of thrones

Coman Hamilton
Larry Ellison image via Shutterstock

Why Larry Ellison’s power reshuffle at Oracle is one of the greatest PR stunts in the history of Silicon Valley.

You have to Oracle credit for timing. The might not be so hot when it comes to JVM release schedules, but when it comes to announcing new company leadership, they know how to get it right.

With Larry Ellison making headlines all over the media only a few days before the JavaOne and OpenWorld events, all eyes are now on Oracle’s trademark conferences to find out what direction the company is heading next.

Quasi-eulogies are appearing on all major publications all over the web, chronicling Larry Ellison’s love of the America’s Cup, his collection of cars and divorced wives and his cameo appearance in Iron Man 2. Fortune has even pondered whether the change marks “the end of an era.” Nine out of ten headlines claim that Oracle’s co-founder is to “step down.” But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Ellison has merely stepped to the side.

Ellison’s game of musical chairs

In a rather interesting move, Ellison is letting his boys Catz and Hurd share the role of CEO. However it’s not entirely clear if their responsibilities will change at all. The company’s presiding director has said that Ellison “has made it very clear that he wants to keep working full time and focus his energy on product engineering, technology development and strategy.”

Oracle is also emphasising not much is going to change internally. “Safra and Mark will now report to the Oracle Board rather than to me. All the other reporting relationships will remain unchanged,” reads Ellison’s official release to the press. “The three of us have been working well together for the last several years, and we plan to continue working together for the foreseeable future. Keeping this management team in place has always been a top priority of mine.”

Although Oracle’s new CEOs report to the board and not to him, the company’s founder has made it clear that he’s not going anywhere.

“I am going to continue to do what I have been doing the past several years,” Ellison told the Washington Post, “and they are going to continue doing what they have been doing the past several years.”

Bill Gates played it similarly when he stepped aside as the head of Microsoft. The company founder’s trusted friend Steve Ballmer took the wheel, while Gates took over as a back-seat driver. But Ellison’s abdication play is even smarter. In nominating not one but two candidates for CEO, Oracle’s real boss has cleverly avoided handing over power to one person that might threaten his rule.

Taking an example from the British Empire divide and conquer tactic, Ellison’s division of leadership among two company egos may leave Oracle rife for future power struggles.

Ultimately, Ellison’s official statements and his actions don’t add up. While his actions suggest exciting changes and new leadership to come (just in time for the company conferences), the co-founder’s rhetoric aims to calm investors that the company’s future is safe. Nevertheless, company stock promptly dropped 2.5%.

Public relations and personal vanity

It begs the question, has anything at Oracle changed at all? A 70 year-old man abdicates from the throne causing the IT world excitedly debate the future of the company that acquired Java in 2010. Meanwhile, the company’s incumbent chief is keeping a firm grip on the strings that control the company, having made sure his name appears in headlines across the web right before the company’s biggest annual event.

Back in 2008, Larry Ellison appeared on Charlie Rose’s “60 Minutes”. When asked about his drive to succeed, the CEO showed his true colours in a characteristically frank answer. “Who am I winning for? Am I winning for Oracle shareholders or is it simply a matter of personal vanity? I’ll admit to it. Mea culpa. An awful lot of it is personal vanity.”
Coman Hamilton
Coman was Editor of at S&S Media Group. He has a master's degree in cultural studies and has written and edited content for numerous news, tech and culture websites and magazines, as well as several ad agencies.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments