Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison disappointed the 60,000 OpenWorld attendees gathered at the Moscone Center on Tuesday afternoon by ditching his keynote slot at the last minute in favour of spending the afternoon out on the water.
Although Ellison is best known as the head of a major enterprise IT player, he’s also the owner of the Oracle Team USA sailing team, which just happens to be in the midst of a thrilling (if you like that kind of thing) race this week.
As is often the case, the OpenWorld user event is taking place at the same time as the America's Cup. But while in previous years the show has coincided with earlier heats or has been held in other locations, this week the final stage of the sailing competition is taking place in Ellison’s home town of San Francisco and is being closely contested by the US and New Zealand, who were leading the US by eight to seven as they took to the waters on Tuesday afternoon.
The timing was due to an unfortunate set of circumstances. Shipping regulations, broadcast time limits for the networks meaning sailing can only take place within defined times each day, and the tide and wind conditions, all combined to extend the race into OpenWorld week.
This left Ellison with a decision to make: leave his sailing team to their fate and head back to the Moscone stage by 2.15pm on Tuesday to fulfill his Oracle duties; or leave his Oracle staff to deal with the fallout from a no-show at Moscone and stay on the boat to watch how his team progressed. He chose the latter, leaving 60,000 disappointed OpenWorld attendees to hear from Ellison’s deputy Thomas Kurian. But while Kurian might have delivered the same information, Ellison draws the crowds for the entertainment factor of hearing who his latest target for digs and jibes will be this year.
So Kurian was faced with an exodus of disappointed DBAs and customers, and entered the stage to a very muted sprinkling of applause, while Ellison is no doubt celebrating Oracle’s eventual victory, meaning the US and New Zealand are now neck and neck with eight wins each. The last race is Wednesday, so Ellison’s PR team must be hastily rearranging all his commitments tomorrow to ensure his day is free to be back on the water. Ellison could always offer a partial refund on the cost of OpenWorld tickets to sweeten the disappointment, but based on his hard-nosed business sense, that seems unlikely.
Whether Ellison’s decision was an indication of his huge passion for sailing, or evidence of the rich not giving a damn, we’re still cheering Oracle Team USA – it’s skippered by Team GB’s Olympics hero Ben Ainslie after all.
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