Several years ago, I sat next to then-Oracle UK managing director Ian Smith at an industry event. At the time, the software giant was pursuing an aggressive and increasingly contentious purchase of rival PeopleSoft, and for a while looked like losing.
Discussing this with Smith, he turned to me at the end of the conversation and said: “I’ll tell you this: what Larry wants, Larry gets.”
Sure enough, Oracle’s famously confident chief executive Larry Ellison got what he wanted. Since then, he has got a lot of what he wanted as the supplier went on an unprecedented spending spree that took in Siebel, BEA Systems, niche software firms too numerous to mention, and most recently, Sun Microsystems. In the process, Ellison has revolutionised the company he founded, from a database and business software specialist to one of the true giants of the IT sector.
Why? Because Ellison wants to take on the biggest of them all – IBM.
To reinforce the point that Smith made, just look to the waters of the Mediterranean off Valencia this week. In 2000, Ellison, a keen yacht racer, set his sights on winning the America’s Cup, sailing’s most prestigious prize. After several unsuccessful attempts – and a long and costly series of legal cases – Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing team is facing off against holder Alinghi in one of the most technically ambitious, complex, and expensive racing yachts ever built, a 90-foot trimaran featuring a 220-foot wingsail – the largest ever fitted to a sailing boat.
What Larry wants, Larry gets.
So once he gets back to his Redwood Shores HQ in California, what will Larry want next for Oracle? If IBM is the target, there is an obvious gap in his current strategy. So much of IBM’s success today is founded on its Global Services operation – the IT services, outsourcing and consultancy group that leads so much of Big Blue’s sales efforts and high-level customer relationships.
Surely, if there is one thing Larry wants – and needs – it’s an Oracle Global Services. With Sun in place as the hardware arm to take on IBM’s server business, an IT services firm is surely the next target for Ellison’s acquisitive wallet. If he could have anyone, I’ll bet he would take Accenture – with EDS now in the hands of HP, Accenture stands out as the only truly global outsourcer that remains independent.
There may be other, less ambitious, targets – CSC, Capgemini, the big Indian firms – that cannot be ruled out, but none would give Ellison the immediate global reach and opportunity of Accenture. With a market capitalisation of $25bn, it would be one of the largest takeovers in IT history, and perhaps even for Ellison it remains an acquisition too far – although Oracle itself is currently worth some $118bn.
But as Ellison pursues the sailing trophy that has so far eluded him, you cannot question his ambition. Rule nothing out – what Larry wants, Larry gets.