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Why Oracle CEO Ellison’s Pay Does Not Matter

Douglas A. McIntyre

A new article in The Wall Street Journal that describes proxy adviser objections to Oracle Corp. (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison's pay follows months of uproar about his compensation. He made $78.4 million in Oracle's most recent fiscal year. The package is hardly outsized, given Ellison's position as founder and long-time chief executive officer, and how well the company has done.

There are several reasons to ignore the revolt over Ellison's compensation, which probably will dominate the company's upcoming annual meeting on October 31. The first among these is that 90% of the pay package -- $76.9 million -- is in stock options. Protests about public corporation CEOs rarely take this into account. If a company's stock price does not rise much, the options are not worth much. If the stock price falls, they are worthless.

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Oracle shares have done remarkably well. During the past five years, the stock has risen almost 100%, against an 80% increase in the S&P 500. The stocks of two Oracle competitors -- International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and SAP A.G. (SAP) -- have done as well, but hardly any better. In a cutthroat industry, Oracle has held its own, based on the stock market's assessment.

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On top of the stock performance, Oracle's revenue and net income have surged. Over the past five years, revenue has moved up from $22.3 billion to $37.2 billion. Net income has risen from $5.6 billion to $11.1 billion. Critics often argue that M&A activity accounts for much of this. However, for the financial results to be as strong as they have been, Oracle has to be a model of successful integration of the companies it has bought.

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Finally, Ellison's pay is as high as it is because he can force the issue, with what is little more than a rubber-stamp board. Two of the members are Oracle's co-presidents. Most others have been on the board for more than 10 years. Ellison has a great deal of leverage because he owns 25% of Oracle's shares.

Ellison has earned his pay, and he can force his pay, which makes him the model of the modern-day, ambitious CEO.

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