What a CEO does… and Larry Ellison

August 31, 2010

This blog, “What A CEO Does” by Fred Wilson, A VC really resonated with me.

Maybe it is the picture he used in the blog of my former boss Larry Ellison that sparked a rush of flashback memories that replayed through my head.

Before I joined OpenView, I spent 27 years as an operational executive in the software industry. Thirteen of those years were at Oracle. During the last 5 years I ran North American Sales and was on the Oracle Executive Committee and reported to Larry directly. During those 13 years Oracle accomplished some amazing things:

  • I was there in 1990 when the company’s revenues exceeded 1 billion dollars, and I was there a quarter later when they had to restate their revenues below a billion dollars and had their first loss since they went public.
  • I was at the company when Sybase was an actual competitor, and when the industry transitioned from character mode to client server and later to thin client web based systems. I was at Oracle when Larry hired Ray Lane and when Larry fired Ray Lane.
  • I was in the room when Larry stood up in front of the financial analysts during the .COM boom and predicted that some day real customers, real revenues and real profits would matter again… and the analysts did not get it. I was also in the room when Larry predicted the consolidation of the software industry… and again the analysts did not get it.
  • I was part of the executive team that helped transition Oracle’s business from a historical 22%-23% EBITDA to greater than 40% EBITDA in less than 24 months, making Oracle the second most profitable software company in the world… and the most profitable software company in the world that does not hold a monopoly. This was when Larry told the analysts that Oracle was going to save 1 billion dollars and again they did not get it… and 6 months later when he got up and told them he was wrong and that we were going to save 2 billion dollars, they just shook their heads. By the way, if anyone wonders how Oracle got the $34 billion to fund their acquisition strategy, this was what started it all.

As I look back on those 13 years and the time since, the 3 things that Larry has always done as CEO that Fred Wilson mentions in his blog are:

  • Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders.
  • Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company..
  • Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank.

As a CEO, you could do a lot worse than focusing on these three things.

By the way, I am still a shareholder and, as long as Larry is there, I always will be!

Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.