Steve Jobs' Best Friend

Steve’s only friend is a man about a decade his senior - Larry Ellison. He is the CEO of database management goliath, Oracle, and he is Forbes Magazine’s sixth richest person in the world[1]

Steve introduced Larry as one of new directors on Apple’s board at the 1997 Macworld. After the booing, Steve said in his best deadpan, “I hope that wasn’t a boo I’m hearing”. Larry proved to be Steve's cheerleader during Ellison’s little pre-recorded speech at the conference. He greased the way for Steve’s wacky idea to co-operate with Microsoft by pre-empting it:

I think Apple needs to worry less about competing with Microsoft and worry more about doing things that are different; that’s back to innovation, its back to creativity, its back to vision.

Sounds almost like Steve wrote it for him. Larry was part of the fresh blood injected into the board to “carry the company forward”. Apple mysteriously got rid of all but two of its old board line up when Steve came back. There were cheers at the announcement of their “resignation”. There was even louder cheering after Steve announced that he was also one of the new board members. This was a rather fast scramble back to the top for Steve. It was important that Larry had his back.

Legend has it that Steve and Larry took this opportunity to divide the computer industry between them in the same vein as the East and the West divided up the world after World War 2. Steve allegedly drew an imaginary line and said, “Larry, you take the enterprise-side, I’ll take the consumer-side.” 

It was an opportune time for both men. Larry was enjoying his own rebirth as well. His rival Phil White - CEO of competitor Sybase - was thrown in jail, clearing the market for Larry to dominate. He’d come a long way from the confused kid born in the Bronx.

Larry began Oracle in his garage about a year after Steve founded Apple in his parents garage. Both men are college dropouts (Larry is twice a dropout). They are also both orphans. Larry was born to an unwed 19 year old who fell pregnant to an Air Force pilot. She couldn’t handle Little Larry after he developed pneumonia at nine months. She dumped him with her Aunt and Uncle in Chicago. It wasn’t until he was twelve that he learned that these two people were not his real parents. He didn’t reunite with his mother until he was 48. By that year, Oracle had become the industry leader in database management software. The timing couldn’t be better. A common fantasy among adoptees is to prove to their real parents that they turned out to be brilliant human beings, and they were wrong to abandon them.

Larry is not merely ambitious, he’s a capitalist carnivore. He loves to quote Genghis Khan who said, “It’s not sufficient I succeed. Everyone else must fail.” He named his company after a database he was building for CIA in the ‘70s. By 2000, he was the richest person in the world. Unfortunately, wealth attracts higher taxes. He was annoyed that he was paying so much tax on his mansion. So, he devalued his house, pointing out that the place is worthless because no one wants to buy a high maintenance sixteenth century Japanese-style estate. The court awarded him three million dollars in back taxes that he claimed the council owed him. This meant his local school district had to lay off six employees so the council could afford to pay Larry back. His most popular biography is entitled, The difference between God and Larry Ellison: God doesn’t think he’s Larry Ellison. The fact that this harsh book is an authorised biography is testament to Larry making no apologies for riding the American dream as much as he likes til she collapses under the weight of his debauchery.

There are occasions, however, when he doesn’t win. Larry flies jet fighters, like his biological dad. He tried to import a decommissioned Russian MiG-29 fighter jet into the U.S, but was denied his Cold War toy by the Federal Government. Larry said, “It's considered a firearm, even though that's not my intention. It is disarmed, but theoretically you could rearm it and take out a couple of cities.” 

It is rumoured that the character of Tony Stark from the film, Iron Man, is based upon Larry. Stark has Larry’s gargantuan wealth, his collection of racing cars, his playboy reputation, and his carefully manicured beard. Unlike Iron Man, however, Larry gets some other guy to build his stuff. He’s a sharp contrast to his boy scout friend Steve, who is none of those things; and perhaps that’s why they are interested in each other.

Steve and Larry share wealth, power, and the resentment that it tends to stir among the plebs. That’s why Oracle pre-emptively bought the domain names,,,, and Unfortunately, Steve was not as quick as his friend to prepare for such a PR disaster. Someone out there is using the domain as a platform to spout some pretty lackluster vitriol.

Larry defends his friend to the end. In the San Jose Mercury News he said,

You know, we live in a very egalitarian world. We don't like heroes. And Steve is one of these heroic guys whose accomplishments are of such epic proportions, and it gnaws away at our egalitarian sense of the world.

Steve was the official photographer at Larry’s fourth marriage to romance novelist, Melanie Craft. They divorced seven years later. This was a long marriage considering that Larry’s average marital stamina is three years - a far cry from Steve who has been married to the same woman for twenty years.

After Steve’s return, he was inspired by Larry’s Oracle Openworld conferences to create his own annual events called Macworld. He held them at the same venue - San Francisco’s Moscone Centre. Year after year, Steve would leap on stage wearing black turtlenecks like his friend; but sans the sports coat preferred by Larry. A small but telling difference between the two orators is the way each man controls their slide presentations. Larry calls for his stage guy to switch slides for him. He likes to be waited upon. Whereas Steve likes control, so he navigates the slides himself with his own personal clicker. 

Sometimes there was a playful competition between the two events and their respective CEOs. Both companies wanted the rock group, Aerosmith, to play on stage in 2009. Larry used his larger wallet to outbid Apple. Aerosmith’s singer, Steve Tyler, announced on the Oracle stage, “Apple wanted us to play tonight… but when we compared Apples to Oracles, we knew which was the right choice. Thanks Larry!" Then he launched into Aerosmith’s first song, Eat The Rich.[2]

Despite the occasional mock rivalry, both men have maintained the line drawn in the sand over a decade ago. Rather than compete, these two men, have complemented each other in both their business and personal lives. Larry stuck to building faceless number-crunching behemoths to corporations concerned only for the bottom line; while Steve focussed on selling pretty things to individual dilettantes.

[1] Kroll, L. & Miller, M. (2010, October 3) The World’s Billionaires. Forbes Magazine.

[2]Handy, A. (2009, October 15) Oracle Openworld As Soap Opera. SD Times. Retrieved from

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