With the recent news of Larry Ellison relinquishing the CEO role at Oracle, there are likely to be many comparisons between his legacy and that of his late friend Steve Jobs. Indeed, both were visionary technologists whose impact on their respective markets will be felt for generations. But a more appropriate, and slightly contrarian comparison, is that Ellison is actually the George Lucas of technology. Ellison and Lucas share a strikingly similar legacy beyond the fact both are 70-year-old Northern California billionaires.
Software-first entrepreneurs. Ellison got his start in the 1970s by building relational databases for the CIA. This eventually led to the creation of software giant Oracle, which today Fortune ranks as the 82nd largest company in the world. George Lucas similarly started Industrial Light & Magic, which has created amazing visual effects for films such as E.T., Jurassic Park, and Avatar, and won 28 Academy Awards. While both companies certainly make use of hardware, at their core they are about enterprise software and 3D modeling software, respectively.
Hollywood. Ellison and Lucas have deep ties to the film industry. Lucas, whose direct thumbprints are on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, has had an indirect impact on close to 400 films over the last several decades through ILM. For his part, Ellison’s son and daughter run two very successful film production companies, Skydance Productions and Annapurna Pictures. Between the two, they have released such blockbusters as World War Z, American Hustle and Zero Dark Thirty. ILM provided special effects for one of their productions.
A new hope. Both Ellison and Lucas probably passed the torch a little too late. The media savaged Lucas for what were perceived as Star Wars prequels that didn’t live up to the magic of the original trilogy. With the sale of his empire to Disney in 2012, and the subsequent hiring of JJ Abrams to helm the new trilogy, many fans have a new hope for the future of the franchise. Similarly, Ellison is leaving the CEO role at a time when Oracle has been widely criticized for being too slow to embrace cloud computing and too big to grow organically.
Legacy. Perhaps the most meaningful similarity between Ellison and Lucas is their influence on disciples who have gone on to accomplish great things. Oracle alumni who worked closely with Ellison include Tom Siebel (Siebel Systems), Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), Charles Phillips (Infor) and Evan Goldberg (NetSuite). These four alone have employed tens of thousands of people.
Lucas’ ecosystem is equally impressive when measured from an artistic perspective. Directors Steven Spielberg and David Fincher are well-known collaborators with Lucas. Less well known is that the software program Photoshop was incubated at ILM.
It’s worth noting that Ellison’s announcement doesn’t actually mean that he is going anywhere. He will continue as the chairman and CTO of Oracle, much as Lucas has vowed to stay active as a maker of small, independent films.
Innovative giants like these never disappear. History preserves their contributions but it’s the outgrowth that springs from their concepts that make them indelible.