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.
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.
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.