By Noel Randewich and Bill Rigby
SAN FRANCISCO (StartName) – Larry Ellison was the main draw for tens of thousands of technology professionals at Oracle Corp’s annual conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, where he joked about losing his name after relinquishing his role as the company’s CEO.
Ellison, who this month gave up his position as chief executive of the enterprise software behemoth he co-founded 37 years ago, stuck to his tradition of delivering the main presentation at Oracle OpenWorld.
Oracle surprised Wall Street on Sept. 18 with the announcement that Ellison, who owns a quarter of the company, would be replaced by presidents Safra Catz and Mark Hurd.
Oracle has stressed that nothing would change under the new management structure, with the 70-year-old Ellison staying on as executive chairman and chief technology officer.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in a football-field-sized room, Ellison mostly pitched Oracle’s newest offerings in software and other IT delivered over the Internet – a growing trend known as cloud computing.
But he won laughter with a handful of off-script comments about his new role at the company, including one during a demonstration of a new service that lets customers easily move applications from their own data centers to Oracle’s cloud.
“I’m CTO now, I have to do my demos by myself. I used to have help, now it’s gone,” Ellison joked. “I love my new job by the way.”
Minutes later, as he filled in a webpage as part of the same demonstration, he joked, “They took away my CEO title, they took away my name. It’s been a rough few weeks.”
Close to 60,000 people were enrolled for this year’s OpenWorld, which includes technical courses, cocktail parties and a concert by Aerosmith. The event is a major opportunity for Ellison to pitch Oracle’s latest products and vision to corporate customers, engineers and IT managers.
“He makes a big impact, the way he showcases his technology. His selling power is great,” said OpenWorld attendee Vijay Thakkar. “A lot of people come just to see him.”
Ellison has previously edged back from Oracle’s helm. He apologized to Tuesday’s audience for skipping his keynote speech at last year’s OpenWorld to be on the water with his Oracle Team USA sailing team during the final neck-and-neck races of the America’s Cup regatta.
Smaller, aggressive companies like Salesforce.com and Workday have been offering competitive software and Internet-based products at prices that often undercut Oracle, whose strategy has been to integrate software with its own high-end, expensive hardware for greater efficiency.
In response, Oracle has been acquiring cloud-related companies and rolling out its own cloud-based products. But while those products are growing quickly, they remain a small fraction of the company’s total business.
It was the second presentation in three days that Ellison devoted to talking up the progress Oracle has made in cloud computing, which accounts for just 5 percent of his company’s revenue.
(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Tom Brown)