Oracle's Larry Ellison and new director of Tesla may not be quite the check Elon Musk's impulses require. Picture: REUTERS
Oracle's Larry Ellison and new director of Tesla may not be quite the check Elon Musk's impulses require. Picture: REUTERS

New York — Larry Ellison is anything but a check on Elon Musk. The Oracle founder calls himself a “very close friend” of the Tesla CEO and owns nearly $1bn of the car maker’s stock. He also shares an imperious style and penchant for outsized pay. Musk’s deal with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandated an independent director, but Ellison is unlikely to rein him in.

Musk’s infamous tweet in August saying he was “considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured” prompted the SEC  to sue for his removal as CEO and from the company’s board. As part of a settlement, Musk agreed to step down as chair and pay a $20m fine. The company also agreed to appoint two independent directors.

While no heavyweight, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, the Walgreens Boots Alliance HR chief Tesla named to its board, fits that bill. Ellison is a much more curious choice. Like Musk, he is long on vision. Oracle wanted to change the face of computing; Tesla, the future of transportation. Oracle has been among the top tech firms for decades and boasts a market value of $160bn, so Ellison’s gifts for spotting and seizing markets should not be discounted.

Yet despite Ayn Randian visions of greatness, the two companies were nurtured by federal-government largesse. Ellison and Musk both have a history of making over-optimistic promises for product launches. And neither is easy to work for, based on the many executives both firms have spit out.

The SEC was doing Musk a favour by demanding board members that would rein in his worst impulses. That’s unlikely to come from a man whose biography is entitled, The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison.

His tangles with shareholders and accountants also aren’t encouraging. In 2005, he agreed to donate $100m to charity after shareholders claimed he had used inside information to dump $900m of stock before a profit warning. Before that, the company lost a majority of its market value after restating financial results. And Ellison is often among America’s most highly paid executives, notwithstanding his $53bn stake in the company. His latest annual compensation was a cool $109m.

Perhaps Musk can learn from Ellison’s successes — and mistakes. But it’s just as likely that Ellison will overlook, or worse feed, the Tesla CEO’s excesses.