ElectricAnt writes "First of all, I should mention that this book is complementary to Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle reviewed earlier here. Everyone Else Must Fail has not been approved, endorsed or edited by Oracle or Larry Ellison, so it could be that many things were said out loud for the first time. Karen Southwick is a journalist who has covered many technology subjects, and written three previous books about Silicon Valley's business side. She wrote this book, at least partially, based on the interviews with former Oracle executives who were either fired by Larry (as Ray Lane) or left Oracle to start their own business (Tom Siebel)." Read on for the rest of ElectricAnt's review.My first impression was that this book was a former employee's act of revenge against the big bully boss, but as you read along you see that Southwick kept a neutral point of view, presenting only the facts without jumping to the conclusions.
As you would expect, there is more business than technology in the book, not to say that this is bad, but you'll find only the top slice of Oracle's business: sales, marketing, consulting etc. You won't find many discussions on how, why and which technology has been created or adopted by Oracle -- it's mostly how this technology has been sold to customers, and what happened afterwards.
Southwick covers nearly all of Oracle's history, starting with 1979 and up to mid-summer 2003 when Oracle launched its campaign to acquire PeopleSoft. The book's starts with a quote attributed to Genghis Khan ("It is not sufficient that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.") which Larry Ellison obviously likes and uses quite often. After a start like that, it's all downhill from there.
Larry Ellison is portrayed as a natural leader: visionary, extraordinary productive and effective. At the same time, he is the "supreme dictator," "extreme narcissist," "most controversial CEO," all this is combined to make "a grandiose, deeply flawed, yet extraordinary, human being." My favorite quote in this book belongs to Rich Hagberg (a management consultant). When he drives by Oracle's towers, he says, "I tell my kids that's where Darth Vader lives." This is not the book's only harsh definition of Ellison. If Softwar is an "intimate" portrait of Larry Ellison then Everyone Else Must Fail is definitely an "intimidating" portrait of him.
Oracle's culture is defined as "brutal, draining, and filled with potential pitfalls." The relationship between Larry and his subordinates, and what's equally important, with Oracles customers (the Oracle mindset is described as "use 'em and dump 'em.") Everyone is expendable, success must be achieved by all means, and everything is measured by how useful a person is to help Ellison implement his vision.
The list of dumped Oracle executives includes Tom Siebel of Siebel, Craig Conway of PeopleSoft, Greg Brady of i2 Technologies, Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, Gray Bloom of Veritas, the list goes on and on. As soon as Larry Ellison feels that an executive gains popularity with customers, employees, and can, potentially, outplace him, he will find a reason to get rid of that person. Due to Ellison's personal "insecurity" to deliver the news face-to-face, many of those execs were fired "remotely," usually over the phone, and while on vacation. Coincidentally, almost all of them were fired just before the next portion of their stock options vested. Some of the discharged workers filed wrongful termination suits, but few of them won: none of them have talked to Larry since.
Only Bob Miner, Oracle's co-founder, top developer of Oracle's DB, and later head of development, is shown as a friend. Unfortunately, Bob Miner died in 1994 of lung cancer and Larry was left in the void. Over the last three years, Ellison fired all key members of his management team and concentrated all power in his own hands, leaving Oracle without much a needed counterbalance to Ellison's whimsical desires. With increased competition from IBM and Microsoft, unhappy customers, and flawed leadership, Karen Southwick questions the future of Oracle but leaves the question open.
The customers of Oracle DB were technology experts and didn't mind the need to fiddle with the product until they got it working; the real problems started when Oracle began to release ERP and CRM applications. These applications use the technology and don't invent it. In Ellison's eyes, though, the technology is "cool"; he likes to create technology and respects engineers, he doesn't like to perfect it. If something goes wrong with the product, the company attitude seems to be that it's because customers did something stupid.
I found the comparison between Oracle, Microsoft and IBM very interesting: both Oracle and Microsoft are seen as "technology" companies, both have core technologies (database and operating system) and everything else revolves around them, "you better buy everything from us or you're out." It's a sink-or-swim approach.
By contrast, IBM has marketed itself as a "solution" company that brings whatever customer asks for, the best-of-breed approach. However, in positioning .NET as an enterprise system, Microsoft makes one step forward to the solution approach. Oracle still hasn't make any steps in that direction.
A few things in the book are very entertaining -- for example, the story of Rick Bennett, who single-handedly served Oracle as an advertising agency from 1984 to 1990, the most aggressive ads Oracle ever ran were created by him. When Ingres was acquired by ASK Computer Systems Oracle ran a full page ad: "WE KICK ASK." This and some other examples of Oracle's ads from that era can be found on Bennett's website.
If you're looking for a recipe how to piss off your customers, screw up your employees, alienate your partners this book is for you: it has a detailed description how to achieve all that based on Larry Ellison's extensive experience.
You can purchase Everyone Else Must Fail: The Unvarnished Truth About Oracle and Larry Ellison from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit a review for consideration, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.