Larry Ellison takes on nemesis Bill Gates with TikTok bid

Linda J. Dodson

The red-blooded software tycoon may have zero experience running consumer-facing businesses, but he is eager to reinvent Oracle for the future while defying critics who say the company missed the boat on the cloud computing boom, leaving it stranded in a 1990s time warp. 

Above all, acquiring TikTok would offer Ellison the chance to settle scores with his arch rival Microsoft – seen as the frontrunner to acquire TikTok – and his nemesis Bill Gates.

With a fortune of $69 billion, Ellison – the world’s sixth richest person – is hardly down on his luck, but it’s fair to say the fortunes of Oracle and Microsoft have diverged sharply in recent years.

Once neck and neck in the bitterly contested software wars of an earlier era, over the past decade Oracle’s revenues have stagnated. 

Its $169bn market value is chunky enough but it pales in comparison to the mighty Microsoft, which is now nearly ten times bigger at $1.6 trillion, having niftily surfed the mass shift into cloud computing under chief executive Satya Nadella. 

It’s a trend that has only accelerated during the pandemic as more and more businesses switch to digital technology to strengthen their resilience.

Microsoft’s shares have surged by about one third in value this year, propelled by strong growth from its Azure cloud computing arm, which reported a 47pc rise in revenues in the three months ended June 30.

Oracle is now chasing the cloud boom too, but is trailing a long way behind. Its shares – at $55.18 a piece – have largely flatlined this year, prompting Ellison, its chairman, to consider a potentially radical shift in direction.

Either way, Microsoft’s recent run of success is unlikely to have pleased Mr Ellison.

The visceral feeling between the two firms is perhaps best summed up by an internal email sent by one Microsoft executive, which emerged during a historic dispute and which talked of its wish to “kill… Oracle”. 

With extremely deep pockets, plenty of experience running consumer businesses and the expertise to pull off a deal to acquire TikTok – which would involve the highly complex transfer of all the Chinese group’s data to its own systems within a year – Microsoft is the more obvious buyer.

Oracle’s proposal to jointly invest with existing investors in TikTok’s parent, Byte Dance, including General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital, looks less likely.

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