Visiting Sun’s CEO

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, just dropped me off at the lobby of building 10. So, I'm sitting on the floor near a power outlet and am blogging my experiences.

Jonathan Schwartz

What an enjoyable guy! We walked across the street to a Togos sandwich shop. Little-known trivia, Togos was started by a couple of San Jose State University students. I have lots of great memories of eating in Togos over the years (there was one across the street from our high school — I graduated in 1983).

Anyway, at one point we were having such an engaged conversation I had to remind myself that he runs a company with 37,000 employees and billions in revenues. We instantly were talking like long-lost friends.

There was a serious tone to our lunch, though, we talked a lot about the business difficulties facing Sun Microsystems. They are about to layoff thousands of people.

One thing I look for in leaders, though, is willingness to take the worst of times in stride with a clear eye on what comes next. Jonathan exceeded all my ideas of what a leader should do. And he has great pride in Sun, too, and says that the business is starting to turn around.

For one, Sun is going to encourage all the laid off workers to continue to blog — on Sun's dime. Now, I can imagine the kind of vitriol and crud that'll get posted by workers who've just lost their jobs. That takes real corporate bravery and my hat is off to him. One good thing about this? It'll make it possible for new employers to get in touch with laid off workers. There's a lot of companies that are hungry for workers right now.

BusinessWeek cover

At one point I asked him about the Business Week cover I saw (Marissa Mayer at Google was staring at both of us, being crowned by BusinessWeek as queen of innovators) and said "what innovations is Sun doing?" Later I asked him if there's something that Sun and Microsoft could innovate together on?

He told me about some of the innovations that Sun has been working on in the past few years. He's in the midst of a large-scale corporate upheaval and rebuilding.

One of the things he's proudest of is Sun's engineers found a way to dramatically lower the power consumption of their servers. How did they do that? By getting rid of things that Web servers don't need — and by slowing down the chip which didn't hurt Web performance, since most of what Web sites need is high throughput, not high turnaround time (he told me that I really care if 1,000 people can all download my blog at the same time, not that any one of those getting it a microsecond faster). He told me that they found that customers of the size of Ebay weren't using much floating point performance on its datacenters. So they removed that functionality, and other stuff. That saves power. Good for the environment, good for his customer's bottom lines, and good for Sun too.

He's deeply concerned about the amount of power that Internet sites are using. He says that for many Internet companies it's already one of their top three costs. Reduce power and heat on servers and you can save companies like Google or Ebay or, even, WordPress, a lot of money.

How could Microsoft and Sun innovate together? That's a tough one cause our businesses are aimed at different places at the moment, but we brainstormed a few places and I'm sure we'll get something going offline. The fact that we were even talking about working together demonstrates that it's a new world and that the only constant in the business world is change.

He's most passionate about the growth of content around the world. Talked about how a friend of his showed him the popularity of Indian Cricket games world-wide, something that hasn't caught on here in Silicon Valley, but has up to a billion people interested around the world. That kind of content will be delivered over the Internet, which means more business opportunities for Sun. He sees the effect that blogs, Wikis, MySpace, podcasting, and video and videoblogging are having on the growth of the Internet too and is looking for ways that Sun could help those networks grow and thrive.

Why invite me over for lunch? Cause he is seeing the deep effect that blogging is having on his company (it's helping recruitment at Sun too, even in the face of layoffs) and wanted to meet me and get to know me a little better. That's very flattering, but I too was trying to learn something about Sun that hadn't been reported already.

One thing I found out? That he's a staunch proponent of working at home. At Sun they found that people who work at home are far less likely to leave Sun than employees that have to come into the office. He sees that as a competitive advantage and doesn't understand why some companies force their employees to come into the office.

He also went into great detail with me about why Sun is in the position of having to lay people off. I found that to be fascinating behavior on the behalf of a CEO meeting with an employee of one of his fiercest competitors. He's bummed out by having to lay people off which seems trite to say when you talk about a CEO that isn't seeing his own job threatened, but he told me he grew up in a poor family and wants to put Sun into a position so it can hire back all those workers.

He won me over. I've met a few CEOs over the years and a lot of them just want to tell me their point of view. Jonathan was noticeably different: he asked ME questions about how I looked at the world. He was curious, personable, someone I could see drinking a lot of beer with and still remaining friends with. And that's my point of view from the floor of Sun Microsystems' corporate headquarters.

Next time Jonathan, you gotta come up to Microsoft and I'll buy lunch and let's take the relationship further.

Sun Microsystems sign at corporate headquarters

85 thoughts on “Visiting Sun’s CEO

  1. I have a lot to say here as a Sun employee who has been laid off (June, 2006) and re-hired (January, 2007). I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just ramble since I’m not sure who will actually read this anyway. If you are reading this, drop me an email at suzanne.blackstock@sun.com

    I do understand the never ending argument – for/against – working from home. It’s good, it’s bad. For the most part, it works great for me. I am a working mom, so I love being able to take my kids to the doctor without having to ask permission. I still dial into concalls when my kids are sick and have to be at home (I just exercise the mute button!). Is that annoying to those without kids? Maybe, but I have a job to do, and I’m going to do it – kids and all. When they go to bed, I’ll concentrate more, and log back onto email.

    Wow, sounds like someone you want to work with, right? Probably not by the way I described it, but what I described above happens to ME not very often, and if it does, I make up for it at night or on weekends. Matter of fact, I value this sort of flexibility so much at Sun, I gladly work extra hours, would take a pay cut, or even have no benefits at all. As a mom with several “jobs to do,” flexibility is a must.

    So people ask, with so many “jobs to do,” why do you work? Do I desparately need the money? Do I have other priorities than my family? Why do I do this?

    The #1 reason: I like to work. I *want* to work. Unbelievably, I actually work only because I enjoy it, and Sun is the place where I have had the most fun. My friends are there. My mind is challenged there, and Sun allows me to have a life.

    Because of this, I’m willing to pretty much bend over backwards for Sun. I have worked late plenty – until the wee hours of the morning, and I am no executive. I pretty much *always* check email until at least 10 pm at night (MTN in case anyone really cares) even though most days I do log on by 8 am MTN. Why? I just have fun. And seriously, I can’t really answer that question for you. I just find the daily grind interesting. I find change interesting (and boy can you find that at Sun!). I like working. Wierd? I have found so many working moms just like me.

    Now here’s the thing. You may think I “need” to work. You may find this interesting too – I don’t. I just want to. I really love it – at Sun.

    Oh, and was I bitter about being laid off last year? Come on, no. People, it’s life. Sun has a business to run. I am honored to be hired twice. I’ll continue to do good work. I really think Sun is the best place to be.

    Next time, I am going to write about my experience meeting Scott McNealy years ago and why I think the “badge” is so critical to the future…..

  2. I have a lot to say here as a Sun employee who has been laid off (June, 2006) and re-hired (January, 2007). I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just ramble since I’m not sure who will actually read this anyway. If you are reading this, drop me an email at suzanne.blackstock@sun.com

    I do understand the never ending argument – for/against – working from home. It’s good, it’s bad. For the most part, it works great for me. I am a working mom, so I love being able to take my kids to the doctor without having to ask permission. I still dial into concalls when my kids are sick and have to be at home (I just exercise the mute button!). Is that annoying to those without kids? Maybe, but I have a job to do, and I’m going to do it – kids and all. When they go to bed, I’ll concentrate more, and log back onto email.

    Wow, sounds like someone you want to work with, right? Probably not by the way I described it, but what I described above happens to ME not very often, and if it does, I make up for it at night or on weekends. Matter of fact, I value this sort of flexibility so much at Sun, I gladly work extra hours, would take a pay cut, or even have no benefits at all. As a mom with several “jobs to do,” flexibility is a must.

    So people ask, with so many “jobs to do,” why do you work? Do I desparately need the money? Do I have other priorities than my family? Why do I do this?

    The #1 reason: I like to work. I *want* to work. Unbelievably, I actually work only because I enjoy it, and Sun is the place where I have had the most fun. My friends are there. My mind is challenged there, and Sun allows me to have a life.

    Because of this, I’m willing to pretty much bend over backwards for Sun. I have worked late plenty – until the wee hours of the morning, and I am no executive. I pretty much *always* check email until at least 10 pm at night (MTN in case anyone really cares) even though most days I do log on by 8 am MTN. Why? I just have fun. And seriously, I can’t really answer that question for you. I just find the daily grind interesting. I find change interesting (and boy can you find that at Sun!). I like working. Wierd? I have found so many working moms just like me.

    Now here’s the thing. You may think I “need” to work. You may find this interesting too – I don’t. I just want to. I really love it – at Sun.

    Oh, and was I bitter about being laid off last year? Come on, no. People, it’s life. Sun has a business to run. I am honored to be hired twice. I’ll continue to do good work. I really think Sun is the best place to be.

    Next time, I am going to write about my experience meeting Scott McNealy years ago and why I think the “badge” is so critical to the future…..

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  7. Hi,

    I was laid of from Sun a few days ago. No hurt feelings and I was actually excited to read your blog and see that Jonathan was going to allow laid off workers to continue to blog on “Sun’s dime”.

    My blog is still there – but I have no access. I guess they changed their mind. Is anyone else experiencing the same problem?

  8. Hi,

    I was laid of from Sun a few days ago. No hurt feelings and I was actually excited to read your blog and see that Jonathan was going to allow laid off workers to continue to blog on “Sun’s dime”.

    My blog is still there – but I have no access. I guess they changed their mind. Is anyone else experiencing the same problem?

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  10. What a great read! and comments are the best.

    In my humble opinion I think Sun has a lot to give but needs to be more aggressive selling and shrink their R&D to focus on things that matter more. Focus on selling solutions and software that they already have and get the wave of open source.

    SOA is the next thing comming…

  11. What a great read! and comments are the best.

    In my humble opinion I think Sun has a lot to give but needs to be more aggressive selling and shrink their R&D to focus on things that matter more. Focus on selling solutions and software that they already have and get the wave of open source.

    SOA is the next thing comming…

  12. Mr. Scoble / et. al.,

    (from Mac Beach in post #18 above):
    “I just may decide at some point that my next PC won’t be a PC at all, but a PS3 or even an XBox.”

    If you want to see something really cool coming out of Sun, check out http://www.projectdarkstar.com.

    Think “service”…

  13. Mr. Scoble / et. al.,

    (from Mac Beach in post #18 above):
    “I just may decide at some point that my next PC won’t be a PC at all, but a PS3 or even an XBox.”

    If you want to see something really cool coming out of Sun, check out http://www.projectdarkstar.com.

    Think “service”…

  14. As a former Sun employee who left of my own volition, i.e., not laid off, all I can say is the sun has set.

    In my eight+ years at Sun, there were so many innovations that they failed to capitalize on. To see evidence of this one only need look at the innovative companies started by Sun alumni or run by Sun alumni. Ideas are prolific at Sun; many are good, a few are great, but there is not much you can do to promote your idea up the org, especially if you are not in Silicon Valley. There are a few exceptions such as Looking Glass. You only choice is to leave with your ideas and do a start-up (one example: google comes to mind).

    Until Sun figures out how to effectively filter and mine the ideas of the remnants in the trenches, create a process to capitalize on the great ideas, whatever their internal source, and remove the luddites from middle management then Bill Joy’s prophetic words will continue to ring true: “Innovation happens elsewhere”. Not to mention the anti-Joy bias that still survives to this day, deep in the sun caves, that ignored/killed his innovations!

    I hope Jonathan fixes the internal idea pipeline as part of this transformation process, its long overdue.

  15. As a former Sun employee who left of my own volition, i.e., not laid off, all I can say is the sun has set.

    In my eight+ years at Sun, there were so many innovations that they failed to capitalize on. To see evidence of this one only need look at the innovative companies started by Sun alumni or run by Sun alumni. Ideas are prolific at Sun; many are good, a few are great, but there is not much you can do to promote your idea up the org, especially if you are not in Silicon Valley. There are a few exceptions such as Looking Glass. You only choice is to leave with your ideas and do a start-up (one example: google comes to mind).

    Until Sun figures out how to effectively filter and mine the ideas of the remnants in the trenches, create a process to capitalize on the great ideas, whatever their internal source, and remove the luddites from middle management then Bill Joy’s prophetic words will continue to ring true: “Innovation happens elsewhere”. Not to mention the anti-Joy bias that still survives to this day, deep in the sun caves, that ignored/killed his innovations!

    I hope Jonathan fixes the internal idea pipeline as part of this transformation process, its long overdue.

  16. Ah, Togo’s! A lot of the work in 1978 and 1979 at Stanford University on the S-1 Lisp compiler (which eventually fed into the design of the Common Lisp programming language) was fueled by family-size #9 sandwiches, always with extra jalapeños, from Togo’s. Yummmmmmm.

  17. Ah, Togo’s! A lot of the work in 1978 and 1979 at Stanford University on the S-1 Lisp compiler (which eventually fed into the design of the Common Lisp programming language) was fueled by family-size #9 sandwiches, always with extra jalapeños, from Togo’s. Yummmmmmm.

  18. I’m currently at Sun Microsystems, living daily with the transparency of Jonathan’s decision-making processes and corporate course corrections.

    They’re the right ones.

    Sun isn’t DEC, SGI, Tandem, Wang, Apollo or any of the other former megalithic computer titans of yesteryear that have fallen from grace. Admittedly, the decision by Sun’s board to remove the poison pill provision is screaming “we’re ready to be acquired!” but the company is still an industry leader in hardware innovation (see the latest x64 and SPARC servers), the best enterprise OS on the planet: Solaris (secure, stable and technologically superior esp. in its innovations), a major leader in open source software releases, one of the largest developer communities in existence next to Microsoft and IBM, etc.

    The forthcoming job cuts are going to be painful. I have no doubt of that. Unlike some of the naysayers (and those with probable examples of iWork slacking), I honestly believe Sun will continue to shine.

    Sun has always been positioned as an innovator and future/forward-thinking engineering company. However, the days of dreaming about new technologies to fuel the next wave of tech growth needs to be put on hold — and Jonathan gets that. The Street wants growth: market share, revenues and returns. Don’t be surprised by Sun’s slow rebirth at Jonathan’s hands, but it will finally happen, assuming Sun isn’t acquired.

    Maybe some Chinese or Indian company will make the move into the major high-tech marketplace (a la Lenovo w/IBM) to grab Sun. Maybe parts of Sun will be spun off and sold, or run as smaller entities. (Can you say SGI and MIPS?) *Doubtful.*

    Whether I survive this upcoming round of layoffs, I still know this company is a winner. The contributions to the technology sector have been historic. Imagine a world without any of Sun’s creations, whether SPARC, Java, Solaris/SunOS, etc. It’s the overall impact to the marketplace that has been historic, driving other companies to work harder to earn their share, just as they fight to destroy Sun’s.

    And unlike doomed (SGI) or failed (Apollo) high-tech companies, Sun has a wealth of products to capitalize on.

    And, yes: Blogging won’t save the company, but the transparency factor will generate more sales, more loyalty and more reality about what needs to be fixed/focused on. (Just see the latest product review widgets on Sun.com product sites like http://www.sun.com/staroffice and http://www.sun.com/servers )

    Desperation? Nah. It’s a new paradigm shift in business for Sun, one which ought to engender more customers/users. Slash the servers by half from current prices? THAT would be desperation. (No, I’m not talking about the ‘free’ try-n-buy promos offered right now.)

    Sun will continue to shine.

  19. I’m currently at Sun Microsystems, living daily with the transparency of Jonathan’s decision-making processes and corporate course corrections.

    They’re the right ones.

    Sun isn’t DEC, SGI, Tandem, Wang, Apollo or any of the other former megalithic computer titans of yesteryear that have fallen from grace. Admittedly, the decision by Sun’s board to remove the poison pill provision is screaming “we’re ready to be acquired!” but the company is still an industry leader in hardware innovation (see the latest x64 and SPARC servers), the best enterprise OS on the planet: Solaris (secure, stable and technologically superior esp. in its innovations), a major leader in open source software releases, one of the largest developer communities in existence next to Microsoft and IBM, etc.

    The forthcoming job cuts are going to be painful. I have no doubt of that. Unlike some of the naysayers (and those with probable examples of iWork slacking), I honestly believe Sun will continue to shine.

    Sun has always been positioned as an innovator and future/forward-thinking engineering company. However, the days of dreaming about new technologies to fuel the next wave of tech growth needs to be put on hold — and Jonathan gets that. The Street wants growth: market share, revenues and returns. Don’t be surprised by Sun’s slow rebirth at Jonathan’s hands, but it will finally happen, assuming Sun isn’t acquired.

    Maybe some Chinese or Indian company will make the move into the major high-tech marketplace (a la Lenovo w/IBM) to grab Sun. Maybe parts of Sun will be spun off and sold, or run as smaller entities. (Can you say SGI and MIPS?) *Doubtful.*

    Whether I survive this upcoming round of layoffs, I still know this company is a winner. The contributions to the technology sector have been historic. Imagine a world without any of Sun’s creations, whether SPARC, Java, Solaris/SunOS, etc. It’s the overall impact to the marketplace that has been historic, driving other companies to work harder to earn their share, just as they fight to destroy Sun’s.

    And unlike doomed (SGI) or failed (Apollo) high-tech companies, Sun has a wealth of products to capitalize on.

    And, yes: Blogging won’t save the company, but the transparency factor will generate more sales, more loyalty and more reality about what needs to be fixed/focused on. (Just see the latest product review widgets on Sun.com product sites like http://www.sun.com/staroffice and http://www.sun.com/servers )

    Desperation? Nah. It’s a new paradigm shift in business for Sun, one which ought to engender more customers/users. Slash the servers by half from current prices? THAT would be desperation. (No, I’m not talking about the ‘free’ try-n-buy promos offered right now.)

    Sun will continue to shine.

  20. Post sucks. It’s the reading reading some teenager’s diary :-( The current SUN’s CEO was at executive level for about five years now – so what exactly he’d changed at Sun? The company is going directly to drain and no M$ucks blogging along with butt-kissing can change it ever.

    Be real folks – check the stock prices. Looks like it doesn’t make sense to SUN’s hot shots to keep the company above the water’s level… Any reason why they need to, though?

  21. Post sucks. It’s the reading reading some teenager’s diary :-( The current SUN’s CEO was at executive level for about five years now – so what exactly he’d changed at Sun? The company is going directly to drain and no M$ucks blogging along with butt-kissing can change it ever.

    Be real folks – check the stock prices. Looks like it doesn’t make sense to SUN’s hot shots to keep the company above the water’s level… Any reason why they need to, though?

  22. Jonathan does seem like a nice guy and from the people I have talked to that know him personally say he is instantly likable. Good luck to you Robert. Oh and Jonathan, be sure to let us know when hiring stabalizes at Sun ;)

  23. Jonathan does seem like a nice guy and from the people I have talked to that know him personally say he is instantly likable. Good luck to you Robert. Oh and Jonathan, be sure to let us know when hiring stabalizes at Sun ;)

  24. There are two different stories as to how Togo’s got its name. The first is that the original San Jose location had a no identification other than a sign outside that said “To Go.” The other is that the founders were named TOm and GOrdon.

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