by Lauren Gibbons Paul

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle Corp.

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Chairman and CEO

Oracle Corp.

No one has ever accused Larry Ellison of being a geek. Tales of babes, boats and braggadocio dissolve that image. So it must irk the Oracle chairman and CEO to see his company, his leadership style and his personal wealth consistently ranked behind those of the Prince of All Geeks, Bill Gates.

Ellison, 58, is a worthy leader in his own right. Ken Jacobs, vice president of product strategy in the server technologies division (also known as Dr. DBA), was Oracle’s 18th hire back in 1981. (Now roughly 42,000 people work for the company.) Even then, Ellison’s intellect and charm were not lost on Jacobs. “He could see the promise of the relational database and what it could do for companies. He was the first to take advantage of that,” says Jacobs.

Despite the woes the company has suffered in the bruising economy, $9.7 billion Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle remains the world’s leading supplier of relational database software. “I’ve seen Larry lead through difficult times and energetic times. In all of those years, I don’t think he has made a strategic mistake,” says Jacobs.

Ellison rarely gets hung up on criticism, such as charges that the latest Oracle database releases have been full of problems. “Larry believes in innovating first and cleaning up the mess later,” says former Oracle honcho Ray Lane. One potential mess looming on the horizon is the lack of a successor. While Gates withdrew from the CEO position at Microsoft and named Steve Ballmer to the job more than two years ago, Ellison has taken no such action. The recent departures of key execs like Lane create a succession void. “Maybe it’s easier to replace a Bill Gates than it is a Larry Ellison,” cracks Jacobs. “He has so much strength of character. He’s a pit bull when it comes to taking an idea and driving it forward.”