Larry Ellison Really Said that Apple Won't Do as Well Without Steve Jobs

CBS had us going on Monday with a clip of Larry Ellison seemingly saying that Apple will crash and burn without the late Steve Jobs. The full interview offers a slightly different take, however, one in which Mr. Ellison calls Steve Jobs "irreplaceable" and says that Apple won't do as well without him.

Mr. Ellison is right, of course. Steve Jobs is irreplaceable. Whether or not Apple can do as well without him remains to be seen. I've argued repeatedly that if you think Steve Jobs was the bee's knees (I do), you should believe him when he said that he rebuilt Apple to live on without him.

Mr. Jobs said just that to biographer Walter Isaacson.

That's neither here nor there, however, at least when it comes to the Larry Ellison interview with Charlie Rose that was aired Tuesday morning on CBS. Mr. Ellison was speaking as a grieving friend who lost his "best friend of 25 years" to cancer. He's allowed a bit of poetic license when discussing the impact of his friend's loss, and the very least thing anyone can say is that Apple (and the world) won't be the same without Steve Jobs.

So, let's look at the full interview as aired on CBS's website. It's a seven minute segment, and it includes some other interesting comments, too:

Note that it starts off with a bash on Google as a whole and Google CEO Larry Page in particular. He said that the only people in Silicon Valley that he tries to avoid are "the Google Guys," Larry Page "specifically."

Them's fightin' words, but Larry Ellison's company, Oracle, is already fighting with Google in court. Oracle (and Mr. Ellison) have accused Google of using Java code without permission.

"We just think they took our stuff," he said, referring to Java technology Oracle claims is used in Android development tools without permission. He went on to say that what Mr. Page did (according to Mr. Ellison) was "evil," making a distinction between actions and the man.

Moving on to Steve Jobs, Mr. Ellison said that he was brilliant, "He was our Edison. He was our Picaso. He was an incredible inventor."

In yesterday's mention of the CBS teaser video, I noted that when Charlie Rose asked what would happen to Apple without Steve Jobs, Mr. Ellison said:

We already know [what will happen to Apple without Steve]. We conducted the experiment. I mean, it’s been done. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs [raises hand]. We saw Apple without Steve Jobs [lowers hand]. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs [raises hand again]. Now, we’re gonna see Apple without Steve Jobs [lowers hand hand again].

It was a shrewd edit point by CBS to get folks interested in the full interview, but as noted above, Mr. Ellison's full comments offer a far more nuanced interpretation.

Mr. Rose said, "So you're shorting Apple," using stock terminology to say Mr. Ellison was betting that Apple would fall.

Mr. Ellison fired right back, however, saying, "I'm not shorting Apple. I like Tim Cook. I think there are a lot of talented people over there."

Charlie Rose challenged this, saying, "You just said Apple is going down without Steve Jobs. That's exactly what you said!"

"OK," Mr. Ellison said. "I'll say it publicly. Steve Jobs is irreplaceable. I don't see how...they will not be nearly so successful because he's gone."

Charlie Rose then showed why he is among the most respected interviewers in the business by asking, "Did you watch him die?"

That's a hard question,but it drew out a story about Mr. Ellison watching Steve Jobs's health deteriorate. He added that he reached a point where he decided that the medication he was on to fight his health problems was going to stop.

"He just pulled off the meds, I think on a Saturday or Sunday, and by the following Wednesday he was gone."

"There is no other Steve Jobs?" Mr. Rose asked.

Mr. Ellison replied that, "My eulogy began, 'I guess we're all told no one is irreplaceable I don't believe that.'"

The last two minutes of the interview are spent talking about the NSA's surveillance of communications within the U.S., a surveillance program that makes extensive use of Oracle's high-end database software.

Mr. Ellison said that he supports what the NSA is doing, calling it essential and noting that President Obama had called it essential. Mr. Rose asked at what point it could become a problem, and Larry Ellison said that it would cross a line if NSA surveillance became a tool to target political opponents.

Mr. Rose specified that Mr. Ellison refused to specify where the line was. Of course, Mr. Ellison's thoughts aren't going to play much of a role in policy, even though he's the third richest person in the U.S. It was interesting, however, to hear his take.