Don’t mess with Larry Ellison

Nov 21, 2011
<p><i>Tim Human</i>&rsquo;s monthly M&amp;A column</p>

The communications rule book goes out the window when you’re dealing with Larry Ellison, CEO of US-based software firm Oracle.

The combative executive once gave a commencement speech at Yale where he called the audience a bunch of losers and urged them to drop out if they still had the chance (Ellison himself is a college drop-out).

A more recent victim of his ire is Mike Lynch, the CEO of British technology firm Autonomy Corporation, who made the mistake of selling his company to Ellison’s great rival Hewlett-Packard. Soon after the deal was announced, Ellison teased HP by claiming Autonomy had been ‘shopped’ to Oracle first – but had been turned down because Autonomy was overpriced.

Lynch denied this in an interview, and commented that Ellison’s knowledge of the unstructured data world was ‘weak’. The terms ‘red rag’ and ‘bull’ come to mind.

Ellison responded by posting a press release on Oracle’s website saying Lynch either ‘has a very poor memory or he’s lying’. He also claimed to have PowerPoint slides proving the attempted sale took place in an April meeting between Oracle, Lynch and M&A banker Frank Quattrone.

Lynch should have realized he was on to a hiding and kept quiet. Instead he issued a further denial, saying the presentation was a ‘lively discussion of database technologies’ and not about selling his firm.

Cue a second statement from Oracle with more details of the meeting, which Oracle said was clearly not about database technologies, as the slides were all about Autonomy’s financials.

It also posted the presentations slides on its site, so others could check their contents, under a section entitled

Whether Autonomy was shopped to Oracle is still up for debate. Autonomy and Quattrone continue to deny the claim, saying the slides Oracle posted online were not used in the April meeting. All we know for sure is that Ellison is a man who needs to be handled with extreme care.

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