Today in Apple history: Happy birthday to Steve Jobs’ best friend, Larry Ellison

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Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison once offered to buy Apple for Jobs to run.
Photo: Oracle Corporate Communications

17AugAugust 17, 1944: Larry Ellison, billionaire co-founder and former CEO of Oracle, and Steve Jobs’ best friend, is born.

A later member of the Apple board of directors and the closest thing Jobs had to a confidante, in the 1990s Ellison even considered staging a hostile takeover of Apple to reinstall Jobs as CEO during his time away from the company.

Jobs’ son, Reed, reportedly referred to Ellison as, “our rich friend.”

Ellison and Jobs were friends for much of their careers. In his book The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, journalist Alan Deutschman notes the interesting parallels between them: Both were born out of wedlock and put up for adoption; both came from modest backgrounds; both had minimalist, austere tastes; both were fascinated by the Far East; and both were charismatic tech figures the press loved to write about.

How much of this had an impact on their friendship can’t be easily measured, but Ellison certainly played a role in Jobs’ life that few other people did. According to Heidi Roizen, former VP of World Wide Developer Relations for Apple Computer, Jobs’ hierarchical worldview of business went Steve, Larry Ellison, and then Jobs’ top long-standing execs at Apple.

Jobs certainly trusted and approved of Ellison’s tastes. Back in the 1990s, he reportedly showed Ellison 11 different cuts of Toy Story before it debuted — with the resulting Pixar IPO turning Jobs into a billionaire. It was also Ellison’s private jet that Jobs used until the Apple board agreed to give Jobs a Gulfstream V of his own.

Ellison’s most significant Apple-related moment was when he came close to buying out the company in the 1990s — with the plan of reinstalling Jobs as CEO and taking the company private again. “I will buy Apple, you will get 25 percent of it right away for being CEO, and we can restore it to its past glory,” he told Jobs.

Jobs wound up turning it down, saying, “I decided I’m not a hostile-takeover kind of guy,” but it proved an important step in cementing his desire to return to Apple.

When Jobs reassumed control of the company, Ellison was the first person Jobs sought out to join Apple’s board of directors.

Amusingly, after Ellison agreed but told Jobs he didn’t want to attend every meeting, Jobs had a cardboard standee made out of Ellison’s portrait from one of his Business Week covers and put it in Larry’s place in the boardroom. If it didn’t have any of Ellison’s valuable insights, it did at least turn up more regularly than he did.

Ellison eventually resigned from the position in 2002, with Jobs mentioning in a press release about the news that, “We’re looking forward to benefiting from his counsel on an informal basis going forward.”

“Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Ellison told Jobs’ official biographer, Walter Isaacson. “There are cars people are proud to have — Porsche, Ferrari, Prius — because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.” When Jobs died, Ellison was one of the people who spoke at his memorial.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to Ellison’s career than the Apple connection — he’s a fascinating, flamboyant guy who’s been incredibly successful throughout his life. But the Jobs connection, and Ellison’s impact on Apple, can’t be understated — which is why his birthday is today’s “Today in Apple history.”

Happy birthday, Larry!