When it comes to billionaires, in the U.S. it seems the fastest way to become one is to start a technology company. At times, it appears Silicon Valley is minting billionaires almost daily. Airbnb, Snapchat, and Dropbox are among the new companies turning founders and early investors into billionaires. Outside of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the "billionaire buzz" typically tends to focus on these young entrepreneurs.
So it's no surprise that many think the second-richest technology founder is Mark Zuckerberg, but that's not true. In reality, the second-richest man in technology is Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) founder Larry Ellison. Boasting a net worth of nearly $50 billion, Ellison is the fifth richest man in the world. Here's what investors and entrepreneurs can learn from Oracle's former CEO.
Be a competitor, always
The best measure of Ellison's competitive nature is Team Oracle, his America's Cup team. Last year, the team won the cup with Ellison looking on from a chase boat. His presence was not without controversy, because it occurred during Oracle's annual shareholder conference, prompting questions about his priorities. But for many it just cemented their view as Ellison as a tough competitor.
And that extends to his company as well. After years of successfully working with German firm SAP, the companies eventually ended up competing with each other rather than collaborating. At one point, a district court awarded Oracle a mind-boggling $1.3 billion in a copyright infringement case involving the two companies. SAP later agreed to pay $306 million for the verdict, but Oracle also made the company pay for its legal bills, totaling at least $120 million.
Take advantage of others' mistakes
Ellison didn't come up with the idea that made him rich: relational databases. IBM researcher Edward Codd inspired him with a research paper titled "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks." IBM didn't see the potential in the product and essentially allowed Ellison and the co-founders of Software Development Laboratories, a forerunner to Oracle, to build the first commercial relational database system.
And while many business decisions have occurred since then, it is safe to say IBM missed a great opportunity: IBM is a $163 billion company, but Oracle is now valued at $173 billion.
Have a succession plan
Recently, the CEO told The Wall Street Journal why he handed off the CEO job to a pair of co-CEOs: "They have been doing this job for a very, very, long time. ... Those guys now have the titles they have long deserved." Therefore, the transition of Oracle should be seamless under new executives Safra Catz and Mark Hurd, with Catz focusing on the finances and Hurd on sales.
It's important that Ellison can trust the new chiefs, considering he owns 23.5% of Oracle and it accounts for the majority of his wealth. Although he owns nearly 50% of NetSuite and has cash and investment properties, his real wealth is in Oracle. However, by investing his time to develop Hurd and Catz, Ellison ensures that his successors are able to manage the company he created.
After Bill Gates, Larry Ellison is the second richest technology mogul and the fifth richest man in the world. And although he's not as well known as his higher-profile technology cohorts, such as Gates, Zuckerberg, or Tim Cook, he's made himself and long-term investors a lot of money with his tough, competitive nature and his ability to take advantage of others' mistakes. Although he's transitioning to less of an active role to enjoy his wealth, he's left the company in good hands for years to come.