Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison, who for years was just another technology billionaire, has become the second-wealthiest person in the United States. Ellison, an avid basher of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, is only $5 billion behind his much-despised nemesis--the slimmest margin he has enjoyed since 1996.
According to the newest annual rankings by Forbes magazine, Gates is worth an estimated $63 billion. Ellison, who was No. 12 in the 1999 rankings, rocketed to the second spot by boosting his net worth to $58 billion. That's nearly four and a half times his 1999 worth of $13 billion.
The Forbes rankings will likely intensify the six-month duel between Ellison, 56, and Gates, 44, for the title of America's wealthiest man. Through mutual bashing at industry conferences and in the media, the pair have created one of the most acrimonious and entertaining rivalries in corporate America.
Ellison's rapid ascent is largely due to his company's soaring stock, which has quadrupled since the 1999 Forbes rankings. Ellison owns approximately 696 million shares of Oracle, which currently trade around $79.
By contrast, Microsoft stock has lost nearly half its value since the beginning of the year, as investors worried that Microsoft and its workers' morale would be broken into pieces after a grueling antitrust trial. Gates has lost $22 billion in the past year.
Ellison is likely to give Gates another run for his money when Forbes crunches its 2001 numbers.
Oracle announced last week that Ellison received options to buy another 20 million shares in the world's largest maker of database software. According to the company, the options will be worth $438 million in 10 years if the stock rises 10 percent annually.
Ellison did not receive the options without a sacrifice: He gave up his annual salary, which amounted to $208,000 for the fiscal year ended May 31.
If the value of Oracle stock continues to grow at its current rate, and if Microsoft stock continues to slide, the balance of wealth will tip.
Technology titans dominate the Forbes list, published in the Oct. 9 edition of the seminal business magazine.
Eight of the top 10 this year are people who either lead technology companies or made billions investing in technology. The exceptions are investor extraordinaire Warren Buffet, who Gates dethroned from the top spot in 1994, and Sumner Redstone, a septuagenarian who built Viacom into one of the world's largest media empires.