Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was one of forty billionaires that have promised to give at least half of their fortunes to charity over time.  These pledges were obtained through an effort started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have each previously promised to give away nearly all of their fortunes during their lifetimes.  The terse letter Ellison issued to explain what he has done said: 

“To whom it may concern, 

Many years ago, I put virtually all of my assets into a trust with the intent of giving away at least 95% of my wealth to charitable causes.  I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time.  Until now, I have done this giving quietly – because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter.  So why am I going public now?  Warren Buffett personally asked me to write this letter because he said I would be “setting an example” and “influencing others” to give.  I hope he’s right. 

Larry Ellison ”

Ellison’s personal wealth is estimated to be nearly $30 billion by Forbes magazine.  Just last week Ellison was declared to be the best paid CEO over the past decade by The Wall Street Journal.  Most observers seem to feel that he deserved to be at the top of the list given the success Oracle enjoyed during that period under his leadership.  Knowing now that most of that money will be given away over time makes it appear even more justified. 

A popular beer ad revolves around the fictional “most interesting man in the world”.   This latest bit of information about the enigma that is Larry Ellison makes me wonder if perhaps he could be the most interesting man alive.  His accomplishments so far are amazing and yet he seems to be just warming up.  Oracle has transformed itself from an interesting niche player in the IT market into perhaps its most important force.  Ellison appears to be in the process of completing an even more dramatic personal reinvention. 

Not long ago most of us thought of Ellison as a brilliant but eccentric technocrat who was as interested in runway models, fast vehicles, and an extravagant lifestyle as he was in running a business.  His colorful, blunt and untactful comments made him seem like more of a comic relief character than a leading man in the unfolding drama of the IT industry. 

Suddenly Ellison has become the best-paid CEO running one of the better-managed businesses anywhere.  Now we find out that he has secretly positioned himself to become one of the great philanthropists of our era.   All this after a cool cameo appearance in IronMan 2 that seemed to poke fun at himself.  When is he going to stop surprising us?