A majority of Oracle shareholders have once again voted against the company's executive pay practices, including for CEO Larry Ellison.
Thursday's vote at Oracle's annual shareholder meeting is nonbinding, and follows complaints from some large shareholders and their representatives who say Ellison is overpaid compared to his peers.
Ellison is paid US$1 in salary, receiving the rest of his pay in stock options. In Oracle's past fiscal year, that totaled $76.9 million. Ellison declined to receive a bonus. Other top Oracle executives such as co-President Mark Hurd also receive a lot of stock options.
Ellison, who is one of the world's richest people, controls about one-fourth of Oracle's shares.
Shareholders voted against Oracle's executive pay practices at last year's meeting as well.
Oracle has defended its policy on the grounds that the stock options aren't worth anything unless Oracle's share price rises, which is good for both executives such as Ellison and every other Oracle shareholder.
Earlier this month, Oracle secretary and general counsel Dorian Daley described Ellison as the company's "most critical strategic visionary" and characterized his pay as a bargain compared to the benefits Oracle receives.
Ellison took questions from shareholders in attendance after the meeting's formal agenda concluded and the topics didn't always center on enterprise technology.
One referred to a near "disaster" the city of New York would have experienced had Eliot Spitzer been elected comptroller, and asked Ellison whether Oracle could "intervene financially" in New York elections.
"We live in a democracy and the people pick their leaders, and we do that all the time," Ellison said. "If we're not happy with that we can pick someone else. I don't think Oracle should engage in political activity specifically trying to influence the New York City and New York state elections. We should focus on things like building fast computers and better software."
Another shareholder questioned why Oracle has two presidents in Hurd and Safra Catz.
"I just figured two's better than one," Ellison said to laughter. "Seriously, it's a large company. We have a separation of responsibilities." Hurd focuses on sales and support while Catz handles operational matters, he said. "I think they've both done outstanding jobs in their respective areas of expertise," Ellison added. "Either one of them could go out and get a CEO's job tomorrow."
A third questioner complained that she had to call Oracle's investor relations office three times to find out when the shareholder meeting was supposed to occur.
"We love people to come to our annual meeting," Ellison said by way of apology. "We even have cookies." Oracle will make sure information about the meeting is posted to its website, he added.
Ellison steered clear of saying anything controversial when asked about Oracle's involvement with the troubled Healthcare.gov website.
"As an information technology company we are doing everything we can to make it a highly performant, highly reliable [system]," he said. "I will refrain from editorial comments about what has happened there. I think most of us want our government to operate efficiently."
But Ellison revealed which rivals Oracle watches most closely. IBM, EMC, SAP and Salesforce.com "are four competitors we spend a lot of time thinking about," he said.
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com
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