Larry Ellison grew up in middle-class Chicago, dropped out of two universities, discovered a knack for computer programming and is now the third-richest person in America.
Ellison, who founded Oracle Corporation in 1977, has a personal wealth today of $27 billion. Oracle Corporation is best known for its database management systems.
But before he was the world’s sixth-richest person, Ellison was the ill nine-month-old child of unwed 19-year-old Florence Spellman. When Florence realized she couldn’t adequately care for her son, she arranged for him to be adopted by her aunt and uncle in Chicago. Louis and Lillian Ellison raised Larry in a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago.
Ellison attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was named Science Student of the Year as a freshman, but dropped out at the end of his second year when his adoptive mother died. He later attended the University of Chicago for one term, where he learned the basics of computer programming. Despite (and perhaps because of) his father’s implications that Larry would never amount to anything, Larry moved to northern California permanently when he was 20 years old and eventually found a way to be successful.
There, Larry got a job as a computer programmer at Ampex Corporation where he helped build the first IBM-compatible mainframe system. One day, Ellison came across a paper called “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks” by Edgar F. (“Ted”) Codd and saw potential in Codd’s ideas. Ellison joined with two other Ampex employees, Bob Miner and Ed Oates, and started Software Development Laboratories with Ellison as CEO.
Their flagship product, the Oracle database, was first built for the CIA but later developed for commercial use. In 1981, IBM started using the Oracle system and sales doubled every year for seven years. With the success of the product, the company’s name was changed to Oracle Corporation.
Today, Oracle Corporation has a market capitalization of more than $156 billion. Ellison owns a collection of planes and racing boats, sponsors professional tennis tournaments and plays the guitar. Though he recently lost a bid to purchase the New Orleans Hornets, he won the America’s Cup yacht race in 2010.