Greg Gianforte, chief executive and 20% owner of Bozeman, Montana-based RightNow Technologies Inc., which Larry Ellison's Oracle Corp. said Monday he'll buy for $1.5 billion, grew up a high school football star, class president and neighborhood fix-it man in King of Prussia, son of an engineer at General Electric Co.'s Philadelphia satellite works. Oracle's paying $43 a share, the stock's alltime high, for RightNow, maker of cloud-based customer service management software. 

"Greg is very bright, and very intuitive," even though "his grades were not the best," said his father, Frank, now retired at Hersheys Mill in Chester County. "I'm the kind of guy who reads the directions; Greg would look at a problem, and fix it. I'd come home from work and find the neighbor men lined up at my garage for him to fix their lawnmowers.

"And he always had a business bent. When he was president of the senior class, he noticed after football practice how his teammates were running to Wawa to buy Gatorade. So next day he was out there selling Gatorade at the school snack bar, in his shoulder pads, at 10 cents less than Wawa." He was guard on Upper Merion High School's undefeated champion 1978 football team and graduated in '79.

At the Radio Shack in the Valley Forge Shopping Center "Greg gave out a business card and said he would write programs, which nobody much was doing back then. I don't know how he learned it." Not on Frank's "tiny" home computer, he says.

Greg attended Stevens Tech in Hoboken (his brothers, also engineers, went to Delaware: Douglass owns West Chester green contractor GBuild, Michael runs the Two Rivers Water Reclamation Authority in New Jersey). "Greg got a bachelor's and a master's in four years, and he went to work for Bell Labs."
He married a coworker and had the first of his four children, but he and his friends rebelled at the AT&T bureaucracy: "They decided Bell couldn't get out of its own way, they'll never make it. They went out on their own." His new firm, Brightwork Development, produced a program that allowed bank administrators to identify network problems from remote locations. Brightwork sold to McAfee Associates in 1995. Greg moved to Bozeman and started RightNow.

His late mother, Dale, also played a big role in convincing Greg to go into business for himself, he told Forbes while promoting his book, Boostrapping Your Business, two years ago. Read the highlights here.
Why Montana? "When he was in middle school he had a science teacher, Tim Frable, who loved Montana. The only way he coudl afford to go out there was to take some kids for a week. They all had to pay $50 or $100. Greg loved it. So did his friend Craig Lange. They did a lot of hiking and fishing. Craig became a forest ranger in Montana. Greg would visit him. They hiked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness."

After selling his earlier firm, Greg and his wife went house-hunting in Montana. They settled on Bozeman because it's home to Montana State University and its engineering school. He founded RightNow, which now employs 920, 700 of them in Bozeman. 
In the statement marking the sale, Greg Gianforte said Oracle will be "expanding our presence" in Bozeman.  He'll be able to expand his personal foundation, which specializes in "microloans" to local Montana-focused businesses.  

"RightNow's leading customer service cloud is a very important addition to Oracle's Public Cloud," which is moving "aggressively" to move corporate sales, hiring, database and Java systems online, Oracle Development boss Thomas Kurian said in the statement announcing the deal.

The deal reverses Oracle boss Ellison's earlier skepticism on cloud computing ("gibberish...crap...insane...idiocy," as he called it in a famous 2008 analyst presentation immortalized on YouTube), which upends the older software model of selling companies monster systems plus maintenance contracts and updates. With the cloud, customers buy in and are upgraded with the network. Greg Gianforte's work helped make Ellison a $1.5 billion cloud believer.