Larry Ellison USC Commencement Speech 2016 - Summary

May 14, 2016 -

Larry Ellison talks about how growing up his family expected Larry to become a doctor. But he dropped out of school. Then he drove from New York to California to discover himself. There he worked as a river guide and a rock climbing instructor. While he enjoyed those jobs, they didn't pay much. So, he also worked part-time as a computer programmer. Later, his wife divorced him because she thought he lacked of ambition. Needless to say, this was a turning point in his life.

He couldn't find a software engineering job that he loved as much as he loved sailing, so he tried to create one. That way he could completely control his work environment and hire smart programmers to work on interesting projects. Larry wanted to create the perfect job for himself.

Larry Ellison won the America's Cup yacht race three years ago.
What one idea led began the growth of Oracle? The idea was to build the first relational database.

In the 1970s, while computer experts believed that relational databases could be built; most experts never thought that there would be a fast enough computer to run it. A relational database is one which the users directly state what information they want from a database and the database will answer the queries and store the data in such a way that makes it accessible. We take all of this for granted nowadays.

When people start telling you all the experts are wrong, they first they call you arrogant. Then they say you are crazy. Remember this: when people start telling you that you are crazy, you just may be on to the most important innovation in your life. 

"Steve said, "I'm not doing this for the money. I don't want to get paid. If I do this, I need to do this standing on the moral high ground."

Eventually, Oracle became a company that nobody could control due to its rapid growth. He was constantly learning new things on the job. Remember, that he had set out to create an ideal job. Now it became like navigating a sailboat through a hurricane.

Larry Ellison had a great friendship with Steve Jobs. Back in mid-1995 and Steve was running Pixar and running NeXT. At the time Apple was not doing well and people believed that it would go under. One day, Larry and Steve discussed how to save Apple computer.

Larry suggested that Steve and Larry buy Apple and then make Steve Jobs CEO. Larry already arranged to borrow the money of $5 billion. Steve just had to say yes. Steve however proposed that they persuade Apple to buy NeXT and then Steve would join the board. Over time, they would figure out that Steve would be the right guy to run Apple. Larry said, "but Steve, if we don't buy Apple, how would we make any money?”

Steve replied, "Larry, this is why it is so important I am your friend. You don't need any more money."

Larry said, "Yeah I know. But, we could give it all away."

Steve said, "I'm not doing this for the money. I don't want to get paid. If I do this, I need to do this standing on the moral high ground."

Larry said, "Steve you created Apple, it is your company and it's your call". Larry went on the Apple board and then he watched Steve build the most valuable company on earth.

The lesson here is clear. Steve was right. After a certain point it can't be about the money. You can't spend it. It is impossible. In the end, the only practical thing to do is to give it all away.

Why did Steve do what he did? Why does Larry do what he does?

Deep inside of all of us there is a primal desire to do something important in our lives. Freud said there are two things important in life, love and work. He didn't say that love and work was the same thing. Larry is passionate about work. But, passion and love are different things. He loves his family, the Sierra Mountains, and the ocean. The feelings he has about work are different. It's not just a job it is an adventure. It is interesting, challenging, and an all-consuming adventure.

Discover who you are, not what others expect you to be. Find a job that interests you, challenges you and gives you and sense of purpose or a level of satisfaction. If you don't find that, keep looking. Maybe you will find work that you love.
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