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Can Oracle survive the Ellison machine?

April 2, 2004

Facing stiff competition by IBM and Microsoft in the database arena, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison finds himself facing troubled times ahead. 

As Oracle's aggressive move to take over PeopleSoft appears to be weakening, PeopleSoft has acquired J.D. Edwards and regulators and both state and government officials are closely examining Oracle's takeover. 

With the departure of his senior management team, including Ray Lane, Gary Bloom, Robert Shaw, Randy Baker, Polly Sumner and many more, Ellison is finding that not only are there fewer players left, but no clear successor to take over the reins for Oracle, as its leader nears 60.  Stakeholders are wary of what is in store for Oracle's future. 

At an Oracle AppsWorld conference two years ago, Ellison confessed that if given the chance, he would have probably delved into genetic engineering rather than computing.  He feels that after three generations of computing, including mainframes client-server and Internet, "there will be no new architecture for computing for the next 1,000 years," he proclaimed. "The computing industry is about to become boring."

Even as IBM and Microsoft successfully transitioned its leadership from, Lou Gerstner and Bill Gates to Sam Palmisano and Steve Ballmer, respectively, Ellison knows that not only does Oracle need a strong leader, but also someone who can help keep Oracle focused and on track for the future, which may not be possible for one person alone to do.

"If Larry was incapacitated, the cult would dissolve," former executive Marc Benioff says. "It's unclear if Oracle is a sustainable enterprise without Larry, because his personality is so firmly entrenched."

"Oracle has had its best days," Canopus Research president Will Zachmann said. "There's no way they can grow like they did in the 1990s. More likely, they go into a decline. If they lose their core (database) business, the rest of it will crumble."

This article is by Karen Southwick of



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