April 29, 1997: Steve Jobs’ friend Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, calls off his bid to take over Apple.
Ellison’s plan is to reinstall Jobs, who is then just an adviser to Apple CEO Gil Amelio, as the company’s chief executive. He also wants to take Apple private again.
At the time, Jobs had recently rejoined Apple thanks to the NeXT buyout in late 1996. In early 1997, Jobs appeared onstage at an otherwise dismal Macworld, where Amelio gave a long, rambling speech that did nothing to excite the Mac faithful.
A good time for an Apple takeover
This was a terrible time for Apple. While Jobs (and a short-lived return by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak) offered a glimmer of hope, the company struggled in the second quarter of 1997. After reporting a $708 million loss, Apple announced 2,700 layoffs in March.
If you thought things could turn around for Cupertino, this was the perfect time to stage an Apple takeover. That’s exactly what Ellison considered. In February, he started talking to press about the idea. With a net worth well into the billions, he was worth taking seriously.
Behind the scenes, Ellison laid out his vision to Jobs. “I will buy Apple,” Ellison said, “you will get 25 percent of it right away for being CEO, and we can restore it to its past glory.”
To outsiders, it seemed like this might be a godsend to Jobs. While an Apple reshuffle put more and more of his friends and NeXT colleagues into high-ranking positions, Jobs himself was not (yet) running things. In fact, Jobs was still weighing up whether he wanted to be CEO.
Ultimately, Jobs talked Ellison out of the move. “I decided I’m not a hostile-takeover kind of guy,” Jobs said.
On April 29, Ellison called off his takeover of Apple — although he left the door open to another attempt further down the line.
A major event in Apple history
Stories about an Apple takeover weren’t unusual in the bad old days of the 1990s. Just a couple of years earlier in 1995, rumors swirled that Canon (yes, the Japanese camera company!) might take over Apple in either a partial or complete acquisition. This didn’t wind up happening.
Ellison’s potential takeover did play a major part in shaping Apple’s history, however. It hammered home to Jobs how much he actually cared about Apple. The incident proved instrumental in prompting him to take over from Amelio as Apple CEO.
When Jobs reassumed control of Apple, Ellison was the first person he sought out to join Apple’s board of directors. Ellison stayed on the Apple board until 2002.