James Gosling couldn't stand working for Larry Ellison, the notorious founder of Oracle. Ellison is casting an increasingly fearsome shadow over Silicon Vally these days, but Java inventor Gosling is freely proclaiming that the CEO screwed over his employees.
"He's the kind of person that just gives me the creeps" was eWeek's quote from Gosling, a programming whiz who has received America's highest engineering honor and Canada's highest civilian honor. "All of the senior people at Sun [who moved to Oracle when Sun was acquired] got screwed compensation-wise. Their job titles may have been the same, but their ability to decide anything was just gone."
Gosling said Ellison undermined employees in other ways. For example, Oracle canceled a planned, morale-boosting outing to the Great America amusement park for ex Sun workers. The nonrefundable tickets had been bought, all needed approvals secured and the event was under budget, but Ellison's lieutenant insisted the tickets be given away to charity. Gosling:
We were forced to give it up because it wasn't the ‘Oracle Way.' On the other hand, Oracle sponsors this sailboat for about $200 million."
That would be Ellison's America's Cup yacht, which he seems to enjoy throwing in everyone's face, even during periods when layoffs are thick. Update: An Oracle representative tells us, "Oracle doesn't pay anything towards the Oracle BMW Racing team or the Americas Cup. James was incorrect about that fact."
Ellison gets a similarly bad rap from some customers, thanks to a famously pushy sales force coupled with Oracle's growing dominance of the business software segment. In a New York Times article this week about Oracle's heightened power, one software developer was quoted saying the company is "freaking terrifying for some people."
Even in the boundary-busting world of advertising, Oracle's controversial. Ellison has a reputation for advertising features and products that hadn't even been built yet. And he seems to have continued that tradition; a year ago Oracle was spanked by a benchmarking group for touting the database speed test results that did not actually exist.
Oracle has also alienated hard-core programmers like Gosling by suing Google over its alleged misuse of the Java programming system that Oracle inhereted from Sun — a system that's open source and had been widely considered freely adaptable. As with all other components of its business, it would seem, Oracle now considers Java just another way to extract revenue from wary partners.
Then there's the frat house image Ellison is building for his company. Known for his serial office romances, Ellison employed as president Charles Phillips, who carried on an eight-year affair exposed via billboard, and now Mark Hurd, the former fraternity president (and big Animal House fan) who resigned from Hewlett Packard after falsifying expense reports covering time he spent with a former soft-core porn actress who accused him of sexual harassment.
Maybe the market for database systems and customer relationship software — the world Oracle dominates — is so cutthroat that it takes tactics like hostile takeovers, ruthless advertising, high-pressure sales and cold-blooded employee policies to win. And maybe the only sort of executives who can succeed in that environment are alpha male bros like Ellison, Philips and Hurd. With companies like Apple, Google and Facebook dominating the headlines in tech, it's easy to forget that high-minded dedication to computer science ideals and humanistic approaches to customers and staff are not commonplace. Ellison, in the end, is the rule that proves the exceptions.
[Pic: Ellison, left, and Gosling, right, via Getty Images.]