Security Takes On New Meaning in Silicon Valley

SAN FRANCISCO (06/29/2000) - Say the word "security" in IT circles and concepts like antivirus software, firewalls and denial of service Web attacks are usually what spring to mind. However, as Oracle Corp.'s flamboyant chief demonstrated earlier this week, security can also mean a flesh-and-blood bodyguard to watch your back.

IT supremos are big fans of the grand entrance, particularly at major product launches, where they'll try pretty much anything to leave an impression.

However, Oracle Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison pulled a new rabbit out the hat when Wednesday he arrived at a press conference preceded rather conspicuously by a personal minder.

The guard sported all the usual accoutrements: the earpiece, the boxy suit, the fixed expression, as well as the impressive stature and bulk. What he lacked was the ability to blend chameleon-like into the background.

Heads of major firms need protection as much as the next billionaire. But was it necessary to have someone so prominently on hand at Oracle's own headquarters in Redwood Shores, California? Asked the question by a reporter, Ellison was evasive.

"I have personal security in my house too," he noted.

Could it be Oracle's intense rivalry with bitter foe Microsoft Corp. -- and in particular Ellison's long-standing feud with Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates -- that had led the Oracle chief to intensify his security? "Bill does lots of covert things," Ellison quipped.

The Oracle chief produced a yellow card from his inside suit jacket pocket containing the names of three pro-Microsoft organizations that Oracle had hired a detective agency to investigate, a topic that dominated the Thursday press conference. "There's nothing here that says Rifle Association is there?"

Ellison jokingly asked, concluding the personal security discussion.

An informal poll Thursday to determine whether other high-tech CEOs use bodyguards elicited several "no comment" and negative responses. Some companies, including Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., said they just didn't "feel comfortable" talking about the issue.

Neither Intel Chairman Andy Grove or CEO and President Craig Barrett have bodyguards "in the sense of someone escorting people around," an Intel spokesman said. "We do have security involved when they make major trips internationally or to big shows."

Cisco Systems CEO and President John Chambers doesn't have a bodyguard either, a company spokeswoman said, although, like Intel, the firm does use corporate security personnel.

Perhaps the new-found interest in non-IT related security stems from the mantra often cited by Intel's Grove, and the title of one of his books -- "Only the Paranoid Survive."

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