Larry Ellison’s billion-dollar lesson

Last night I caught a re-run of a 60 Minutes interview in which Charlie Rose interviews the billionaire Oracle founder, Larry Ellison.

Ellison is not exactly the reigning authority on living a meaningful life—he worships money and power, and has been divorced four times—but he is undeniably someone who has lived fully.

His childhood was not easy: He did not learn he was adopted until, as an adolescent, his stepfather blurted it out one night before dinner.

A description of his roots, according to Wikipedia:

Ellison was born in the Bronx to Florence Spellman, an unwed 19-year-old. His biological father was an Italian-American U.S. Air Force pilot, who was stationed abroad before Spellman realized that she had become pregnant by him.[7] After Larry Ellison contracted pneumonia at the age of nine months, his mother determined that she was unable to care for him adequately, and arranged for him to be adopted by her aunt and uncle in Chicago.[7] Lillian Spellman Ellison and Louis Ellison adopted him when he was nine months old. Lillian was the second wife of Louis Ellison, an immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1905 from Russia.[7] Larry Ellison did not meet his biological mother again until he was 48.[8]

Ellison was raised a Reform Jew. He struggled through college, and then skipped his sophomore year final exams because his adoptive mother had died. He tried again at another school, but eventually dropped out. By age 20, he moved to Northern California where he eventually founded the software development company that would challenge Microsoft.

When Rose recalled that Ellison had spent one month of his life as the richest man in the world, topping his arch-rival Bill Gates, Ellison returned, “That was a grrrreat month.”

Ellison is quite the huckster, eager, ambitious, touting his accomplishments at every turn, but who can blame him after his adoptive father raised him with the threat that he’d never amount to anything?

“I had all the disadvantages required for success,” he said.

Ellison admits it took him awhile to learn the important things, like greatness isn’t a substitute for human closeness.

“One time [when] I was a kid, my sister walked into my room and said, ‘Larry, which is more important to you: to be admired or to be loved?’ And I looked at my very bright young sister and said, ‘Well for me, personally? To be admired.’ She looks at me and smiles—“Wrong.” Walks out. And it took me awhile to realize that all of us, all of us, want to be loved, that being loved is more important than being admired. It’s something we have a hard time accepting.”