Oracle Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison gave the commencement speech at the University of Southern California late last week, and among other things he talked about a plan with his best friend, Steve Jobs, concerning a mid-1990s bid to stage a takeover of Apple.
And how Steve talked him out of it.
According to Ellison, he took a long walk with Jobs in Castle Rock State Park near Los Gatos in 1995. “If there was something that Steve wanted to talk about, and there always was, we’d go for a walk,” Ellison recalled.
On this particular walk, the pair talked about how they might work together to gain control of Apple — which Jobs was currently out of, having been given the boot a decade earlier in 1985. “[Apple’s decline at the time] was all too painful to watch and stand by and do nothing,” Ellison said. “So the purpose of that particular hike through the Santa Cruz mountains on that particular day was to discuss taking over Apple Computer.”
His initial idea was to buy out Apple and install Jobs as CEO. Since Apple was, astonishingly, only worth $5 billion at the time, this would have been possible, and Ellison says “All Steve had to do was say yes.”
Instead Jobs told Ellison that he hoped Apple would acquire his then-company NeXT, install him as part of its board, and over time realize that he was the right person to be running the company.
When Ellison suggested that buying the company would surely be the speediest way of achieving their aim, Steve reportedly stopped walking, turned to face his friend and said: “Larry, this is why it’s so important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money. … I’m not doing this for the money, I don’t want to get paid. If I do this I need to do this standing on the moral high ground.”
Ellison said that, “The lesson here is very clear to me. Steve was right. After a certain point, it can’t be about the money. After a certain point you can’t spend it no matter how hard you try. I know, I’ve tried hard.”
While this version of the story differs slightly from the one told in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography (according to that book, the conversation between Jobs and Ellison took place later than 1995 and in Hawaii), it’s still interesting to get an extra insight into Jobs’ desire to return to Apple.
Having made enough money that he would never have to work again, and then even more through his investment in Pixar, Jobs’ return to Apple seems to have always been about pride and righting a wrong more than it was about pulling in extra cash.
And things turned out all the better for it, didn’t they?