DURING the fateful spring of 2001, Steve Gold, a young and thrusting Scottish executive with US stock market darling Oracle, learned quickly how to make a small fortune. He began with a much larger fortune.
He was not alone. It was the beginning of the dot.com implosion and Gold held ''several hundreds of thousands of pounds'' worth of stock options from the company that produced the software that powered the very internet revolution itself.
Few companies rode taller on the technology wave than Oracle. Huge swathes of employees accumulated stock during the boom years, forecast their fortunes exponentially, planned retirement at 40, and dreamed of holiday homes in the Bahamas with fat bank accounts.
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Just days before Oracle shares began their near-death plunge on the Nasdaq, Larry Ellison, the company's visionary billionaire chief executive who has a reputation for seeing trends before anyone else, had publicly speculated that Oracle would emerge from the tech crash unscathed.
Ellison was wrong, at least in the short term, and Gold's fortune dwindled to ''just a few thousand'' over the course of the next eight months.
Gold, a self-confessed company man, remains coy about the specific amount he lost - although he regards the episode stoically. He did not get angry, or even, but rather turned his seemingly boundless energy toward his own burning ambition.
''I would love to run the company,'' confessed Gold, who since mid-2002 has been the director of Oracle Scotland, charged with the specific task of increasing the tech giant's market share north of the border.
He comes across as highly ambitious, fidgeting in an expensive suit, restless, hungry, overtly dynamic.
Gold is already one of only a handful who at 40 years old can boast a seat on the UK board of
one of the world's most powerful companies.
His CV reads like a series of milestones in a quest to get to the top.
Born in Kilmarnock, the son an engineer, Gold had a ''normal, spoiled childhood'' as the younger sibling of three sisters. He graduated with a civil engineering degree from what was then Paisley College of Technology, then left home for Surrey, where he spent the next 12 years rising through the management ranks of RMC, the world's biggest maker of ready-mix concrete.
At the same time he was broadening his business knowledge and improving the quality of his credentials.
He said: ''That was the hardest thing I've ever done, working at RMC and at the same time studying for an MBA from Kingston Business School in my spare time with three young children running around the house and a baby due.
''But when you're in the middle of it, you don't really see how much you're suffering.''
Gold joined Oracle in 1998, when the technology and internet boom had already begun to mushroom into a mania.
''It was a fantastic time,'' he recalled.
''It seemed that everything we touched just turned to gold. In 1999, everything needed to be made Y2K-ready, so we had all that business.
''Then, in 2000, it was all the post-Y2K stuff. The business was rolling in then and we began to believe our own hype.
''Most Oracle employees had shares as part of incentive packages and share option schemes, and I believe most still do. But you have to take the good with the bad.''
However, it clearly takes more than a stock market crash to dowse this man's ambition.
''I thrive in corporate culture,'' said Gold, who lives in West Lothian. ''That's a discovery I made a long time ago.''
He came to Oracle as a business manager at the company's UK headquarters in Reading, where again he rose through the ranks to become the senior director of education.
He admits he did not return to Scotland because of patriotism.
''It's nice to be here, but I came back to Scotland for the job,'' he said - although he does admit a certain degree of pride at being a ''Scottish voice on the UK board''.
Last year, the company supported his recommendations for a greater emphasis on Scotland, and to use the business community north of the border as a test bed for Oracle's push into the small and medium-sized enterprise sector - a considerable shift for a company whose customer base has historically been large multinational and public sector organisations.
He also admits to working between 60 and 70 hours a week.
Weekends are for his family and himself. Personal chill-out time is limited to two or three hours on Sunday afternoon. The rest belongs to Oracle.
''There is something I could be doing every single night of the week,'' he said. ''That's why Sunday afternoons are precious.''
''The weekends are when I perform my enjoyable fatherly duties, but come 4pm on Sunday, the next few hours are mine. I'll read, sleep, walk, whatever, as long as I'm unwinding.''
While no specific ingredients exist to produce those who make it to the top of companies like
Oracle, Gold in some ways seems an unlikely candidate.
His background is not technological, but rather old-fashioned engineering. He also cites as his favourite book as Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's dark vision of a future, in which people are created on an assembly line, and then typecast into their profession - certainly an anti-corporate culture view of the world.
Yet he insists: ''Larry Ellison, bless him, likes thinking outside the box. He is a very original thinker. Lateral thinking is encouraged here.''
Despite Oracle's stock market woes, the company has grown itself into the second-largest corporate business software maker on the planet, after Germany SAP. Gold is excited to be part of that.
If the controversial merger plan with rival Peoplesoft goes ahead, Oracle will be the largest - also clearly fine by Gold, even if he toes the company line on the subject.
''If Larry says it (the merger) is a good idea; it's a good idea,'' Gold said, a smile twitching.
Oracle's push into the SME corporate software market pits against Microsoft, but the jury is still out on how the company will fare in that arena.
Nor is Gold above flattery or self-praise, albeit wry, to get where he wants. When asked of his working relationship with fellow Scot Ian Smith, the chief executive of Oracle's UK, Ireland, and South African operations, he said: ''We
get along famously. I like to think it's due to my charm and business acumen.''
However, Ellison was unavail-able to comment on whether a young executive from Kilmar-
nock might one day succeed
Best moment: Being given the opportunity to develop Oracle's business in Scotland and to be able to contribute to Scotland's economic growth.
Worst moment: Realising shortly after graduation that I did not want to be a civil engineer, my degree subject.
What drives you: The ambition to be the best businessman and family man that I can be.
What do you drive: Audi TT.
What music are you listening just now: Eddi Reader - particularly the Burn's Collection.
Favourite book: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
As a child, what did you want to be: Soldier.
Greatest achievement: Achieving MBA while in a new job with three small children and a baby due!
Biggest disappointment: Realising at a young age that I would never be a successful/professional sportsman and win sports personality of the year.