SAN FRANCISCO — About 60,000 people have come from all over the world to attend Oracle's biggest customer conference of the year, but Oracle CEO Larry Ellison left no doubt Tuesday that his boating team's defense of the America's Cup is a higher priority.
Ellison, a billionaire renowned for his flamboyance and hubris, delivered that message by snubbing the crowd that had gathered at a San Francisco convention center to see him on stage. The speech is considered to be the marquee event at Oracle OpenWorld, an annual rite of autumn that has grown so large that some San Francisco streets close down to accommodate the masses on hand to learn the about the business software maker's latest products.
Oracle Corp. Chairman Jeff Henley waited until 45 minutes after the scheduled start of Ellison's keynote address to inform the packed audience that Ellison had decided to remain on a chase boat on the San Francisco Bay so he could watch the second of the day's two America's Cup races. The battle for the 162-year-old trophy pits Oracle Team USA — a group financed by Ellison's vast wealth — against Emirates Team New Zealand.
Almost as soon as Henley extended his apologies for Ellison's absence, people began to head for the exits. Thomas Kurian, an Oracle executive vice president of product development, gave an hour-long presentation in Ellison's place.
"I was disappointed," said Steve Katz, a Hewlett-Packard Co. employee who traveled from Hartford, Conn., to attend Oracle OpenWorld. "I guess Larry's boat is more important to him than all these people here."