Last night we saw the opening night of Oracle Open World 2007. The big keynote session in the Moscone Center was around Oracle’s 30 year anniversary with the main part reserved for Larry. He first dedicated the night to Bob Miner, co-founder of Oracle, whose death was exactly 13 years ago. Then he started telling stories of the old days. Along a long chain of personal memories and anecdotes he walked the 8000 or so audience – and in particular the inner circle of Oracle’s early days who were all seated close to the stage – through the first years of Oracle Corporation. He was clearly enjoying reliving the memories and sharing them with at least the people who were there at the time – and to some extent also the rest of us.
It was nice to hear Larry talk like this – yes, daddy, one more bedtime story – and showed him from a rather personal side. The unexperienced founder of a vulnerable startup, making fun of himself. That is a long way from the arrogant CEO of the world’s second largest software company he usually portrays. Many parts of his story were well known, some were new to me at least.
I had already read that Oracle was the name of a – utterly failed – project at the CIA, where Larry had worked under Bob Miner. And the first name of the compare was Software Development Labatories (SDL). There never was an Oracle version 1 ("Who would by a 1.0 release from a four guys company from California) and the first sale was of Oracle version 2.0 to the CIA for $48.000. The early days were like most startups: struggling to find money and to hire good people. When acquiring a loan from the bank and having to provide a balance sheet for the company which Larry and Stuart had no clue about, they realized more accounting savvy was needed, so the pizza delivery guy – who was brought in most every night – became the first CFO like employee. The next door’s neighbour in their second office location – Venture Capitalist Don Lucas – helped Larry through some rough times with the bank and landed on the board in 1981.
In a long exposÃ© many familiar names – Sohaib Abassi, Ken Jacobs, Bruce Scott, Ed Oates, Tom Siebel, Chuck Rozwat, Ray Lane, Ron Wohl – as well as many I did not know appeared, in the story. The recession of 1991 with Oracle’s only loss quarter ever that led to hiring of a real CFO: Jeff Henley and the bursting of the internet bubble ("50% of company spendings was on technology at that time; technology was not supposed to be that big a part of the economy. the internet changed everything, but not that much") were two other important aspects of Larry’s tale.
Larry particulary mentioned Oracle 7 as a landmark product. Oracle 6 did not run (well) he stated, it having been a major rewrite from Oracle 5, which had been a very good product (that wiped out Ingres). However, Oracle 7 changed the world of databases (bringing Sybase to its knees), taking a quantum leap ahead of the competition. Then Larry thanked the 300.000 customers Oracle has today and quickly concluded his talk.
President and CFO Safra Katz was next on stage. She appeared tense and over-prepared. Bringing on Claire Nolan to talk about Oracle’s contributions to society she discussed some of the programs Oracle is involved in – which is great! However, the way it was presented was not as clever as they would probably had wanted it to be. Oracle donates 100s of milions of dollars (that sounds impressive!) worth of software licenses to Universities and High Schools (now it sounds far less impressive; it is not like donating software to organizations that would otherwise not have been able to afford them does not really hurt the balance sheet). Oracle does this in an attempt to help the next generation become proficient in today’s and tomorrow’s technology. Again, the ambition is good – helping potentially underprivileged children educate and lay a solid foundation for a future career – that is commendable. Making them familiar with Oracle’s products at an impressionable age is a nice added bonus from a marketing pespective, a more cynical observer might add. That same cynic would have had a field day with the proud statement that Oracle’s employees last year donated 26.000 hours of their time doing community service. Which is great (I once did that too when I still worked at Oracle and I quite liked doing it). However, this statement was preceded by an announcement that stated the number of Oracle employees: 76.000. You do the math: Oracle’s community service boils down to 20 minutes per year per employee. While it is still a good thing – and Oracle does not have to do it – and when that time comes out of business hours and is paid for by Oracle it still totals in the several million dollar range (though my Oracle Volunteering activity took place in a four hour period on my free Saturday, though admittedly it gained me a T-Shirt), it suddenly becomes less impressive.
Now I sound like a the bitter cynic I do not want to be. Sorry for that. But some statements can be so pompous that they deserve some close scrutiny.
Next was another sketch by (part of) the cast of Saturday Night Live. However, I missed it as at that point I decided to leave; their earlier birthday cake sketch had been disastrously unfunny (fellow ACE Directory Erik concluded: ‘heads will roll tonight’).
Also see: http://www.itbusiness.ca/it/client/en/home/News.asp?id=45904 for a report of this session.