A sailing billionaire’s perk: getting yelled at by the best

Published on May 20th, 2013

By Bill Schanen, Sailing magazine
It’s nice to know I have something in common with America’s Cup mogul Larry Ellison. Hint: It’s not our net worth.

We’ve both been yelled at on our own boats by professional sailors we invited to be members of our crews.

It’s our common bond, but there are some differences. For one, Ellison has been yelled at a lot more than I have. For another, he pays people to yell at him. Apparently being able to do that is one of the big advantages of being a billionaire.

In my case, the yeller was a hotshot sailmaker who offered to help me and my crew win a race and show off the superiority of his employer’s products. He was known for being a pain in the butt, but I thought it would be worth a bit of verbal abuse to get some go-fast tips. It wasn’t.

After a few humiliating hours, I experienced one of those life-is-too-short epiphanies and resolved to never put up with the likes of him again. That was a long time ago, and I’ve since sailed with a number of professionals – after checking their nice-guy creds first – who proved to be not just smart sailors but good mates.

Nice-guy creds are not a priority with Ellison. We know that because for a while he was paying Chris Dickson, whose reputation as a sailing superstar is exceeded only by his reputation as one of the most obnoxious people in sailing, to yell at him.

It’s not that Ellison likes to be yelled at. In his dazzlingly successful drive to make his Oracle Corp. a dominating force in the software business while making himself one of the richest people in the world (fifth on the world list, according to Forbes magazine), he’s been the yeller, rather than the yellee.

Nonetheless, he endured the hectoring of elite sailing pros as part of another drive, this one to become a world-class racing sailor – not just the bankroller of world-class sailing programs, but the helmsman. Coached by Dickson, Paul Cayard, Russell Coutts and other luminaries, he got to be good enough to win match-racing competitions against the world’s best professional sailors.

Here’s what it takes to achieve that: In the process of winning the Cagliari Cup in Italy in 2008, he had to listen to Coutts shouting this in his ear: “What the (F-word) is wrong with you? Did you forget how to sail?” After Ellison got back in the groove, Coutts “patted Larry on the back like a puppy.” Maybe being a billionaire is not all it’s cracked up to be. – Read on

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