Interview With Larry Ellison

ESPN’s Leslie DeMeuse talks with Oracle Racing’s Larry Ellison.

Oracle Racing founder Larry Ellison likes to excel at anything he does. He’s a cunning businessman with a no-nonsense reputation that he carries with him to the water. His maxi Sayonara, he says, is one of the most successful programs in yachting history, and he intends to uphold that tradition when he enters the ring at the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger Trials in October 2002. In an interview for an ESPN production aired Nov. 4, Ellison spoke with Leslie DeMeuse. An expanded version of the interview follows:

DeMeuse: Why compete for the America’s Cup?

Ellison: It has a lot to do with curiosity and self-discovery. You learn a lot about yourself and you get to compete at a very high level. Here I am an amateur driving in a world championship with a team of professional sailors.


LDM: What would it be like to sail the America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay?

LE: I think San Francisco Bay would be a fabulous place for an America’s Cup. Because of the steep hills on the San Francisco side of the Bay, it’s a great place to view a sailboat race. It’s a wonderful, natural amphitheater for sports, and specifically sailing. I can’t think of a better place in the world for people to watch a sailboat race.

LDM: How do you motivate the different personalities on the team?


LE: I really don’t have to motivate these professionals. They’re all highly motivated. They all want to win. What I have to do is try to coordinate sometimes different personalities and people who are in competition on the team. At any point in time, people think there’s going to be one and only one driver of our boat. That’s not going to be the case.

LDM: Who will be driving during the Cup?

LE: You’ll see a few people driving. You’ll see Peter Holmberg and Chris Dickson driving the boat. You’ll even see me driving.


LDM: Describe the difference between Holmberg and Dickson.

LE: Peter is very focused on driving. When he’s driving, he listens carefully to his tactician. Chris is also a fabulous driver, but Chris sometimes tries to be tactician and driver. He tries to do all of those things at once. If there’s anyone in the world capable of doing everything at once it’s probably Chris. Peter is much more specialized. He is probably the best match-race driver in the world today. He’s very focused, very specialized, and very relaxed. It’s amazing how focused he is and how under control he always is.

LDM: Do the drivers get too much credit?


LE: The driver always gets too much credit. It really is a team. The team of people who designed the boat deserve a lot of credit. The people who have prepared the boat for the races deserve a lot of credit.

LDM: Who’s funding your challenge?

LE: I think it’s completely inappropriate for Oracle to spend its money on my hobby. The money that is going into Oracle Racing is coming out of my pocket. There’s not a dime being spent by Oracle Corporation to sponsor our America’s Cup challenge. I’m paying for that. We have some other sponsors as well. We’re going to announce a big new sponsor very soon, but most of the money is coming out of my pocket.

LDM: What kind of support is Oracle giving?

LE: Basically we built 500 new boats per day on the computer using Oracle technology and that’s really helping.

LDM: Why did you pick Bruce Farr?

LE: Picking Bruce was the simplest and most obvious decision we made. In fact, the very first person we hired was Bruce Farr because you can’t win the America’s Cup unless you have a fast boat. The only maxi that Bruce designed was Sayonara, and the last time I checked Sayonara won every single buoy regatta against every other maxi over the last six years.

LDM: Doesn’t it concern you that a Bruce Farr design has never won an America’s Cup?

LE: That doesn’t bother me at all. One of the reasons Bruce Farr has never won the America’s Cup, by the way, is the fact that a couple of the boats that he designed happened to break. I don’t believe it was his fault. Sometimes it’s the construction of the boat. These boats are fragile. They’re built right on the edge. You want to make them as fast as possible and as powerful as possible and as light as possible, so it’s very challenging.

LDM: Where are you building your boats?

LE: We had to create our own carbon-fiber boat construction company to build our boat. So we actually created a new company and we think we have the best carbon-fiber boat constructors in the world. We want a great job from Bruce, and we also want to build a boat that’s not going to break on us. We think we have the best carbon-fiber boat builders in the world.

LDM: How did you react when Sean Reeves, an ex-employee from One World, offered you design secrets?

LE: They came to us, and I think they came to one other team, with “the secrets” about this other boat. We don’t want anyone’s secrets, so we immediately called Craig [McCaw] and the team in Seattle and said someone has approached with that information. We had a very interesting problem–whether it was appropriate for us to identify the person that approached us–but we immediately told them that we’d been approached, that we wouldn’t accept the information, and that they should look very closely at the people they recently let go because someone is out there peddling their design to the other competitors. We wanted no part of it.

LDM: What are the advantages of early funding?

LE: We were actually out sailing boats before anyone. We did more testing and put in more hours than anyone. We were focused on doing as much testing as there were almost light hours in the day. Again, we designed 500 boats per day. We think this has given us a huge lead that’s going to be very hard to overcome. We got an early start. We stayed focused. We used the best technology. We got the best people. We have a great chance of winning.