Saturday, June 29, 2019

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 4

Sometimes life at Sun was just....different.

In 1986 the EEOC accused us of falsifying records. One of our software engineers was reported as female (where we were "underutilized") on our last audit. Apparently, the same person had been reported as male the year before. I was assigned to investigate.
Turns out that it was true and also correct. "Bobby" had become "Bunny" over the summer. My first trans-gender....but at the time, we just called it a sex-change.

I let the feds know that everything was fine and got a surprise...they would not take my word for it. Had to have some proof. They gave me a list of things I had to discuss with Bunny. So, I asked Bunny to meet me in my office in Mt View.

When Bunny was living her life as a man, he must have cut quite the dashing figure. But the 6'6" blond that walked into my office was, well...not ever going to be Miss America. Bunny had breasts, she had been undergoing hormone treatment for 11 months and now dressed in chiana shirts, khaki's and sandals. I noticed that the toes on her size 14 feet were painted the same pink that I was wearing, but she was not wearing any make-up, so you could see the last few hairs from her waning beard. She had long, thinning, naturally blond hair and hands the size of dinner plates. That was OK, beauty is not everything. Besides, Bunny had done this all for love. Seems he had fallen in love with a lesbian and this change was the only way to be with her. True love. But, whatever the reason for the change was irrelevant, I had a task to complete. Bunny was such a good sport, submitting doctors affidavits and her new driver's license, proving the State of California considered her female. And then I asked the question I had been dreading...the feds wanted me to find out where Bunny used the restroom, no kidding, I had to ask her where she went to the john...even after all the other questions, this one seemed so......invasive. But again, Bunny was philosophical. "Well, I cannot use the men's room, obviously," Bunny said, pointing to her new upper frontals. "And, the women seem very nervous if I use the ladies room...you see, at my height, I can see over the tops of the stalls when I stand up. So, I go down the street to the Exxon Station!" She was right, this was not a girl I ever wanted to run into coming out of stall #3, but my heart broke a bit for Bunny...I mean really, the Exxon station?. Bunny left Sun a little while after someone hacked into Wayne Rosing's email and posted the performance reviews of his direct reports on Junk Mail. Last I heard, Bunny and her lady love had moved to a lesbian nudist colony in Oregon. I hope they are happy and have a private toilet.

The story of Johnny DLP.

The Monday after Thanksgiving was always a bit subdued at Sun. There was certainly the hangover from a 4 day weekend, but there was also the calm-before-the-end-of-Q2-storm. In Operations, that Monday was the day of full reality...we had a very few days to ship a sh*t-load of product. The damn holidays always seemed to catch us by surprise.

My phone rang mid-morning the Monday after Thanksgiving 1987 and at the other end was Johnny DLP. Johnny was one of my favorite folks. He had joined as an assembler in manufacturing, was promoted to supervisor there and then had made the switch to materials manager. He was integral to making Q4 happen. He was a stellar, if somewhat unpolished employee. Johnny was short, cocky, unintimidated by authority, over familiar, hard working, over dressed some days, under dressed some days, macho, sweet, competent, not well educated and smart-as-can-be! He was a rising star in Ops and I loved him.

"Hey, Nancy," he began, "I cannot make it into work today."
"OK," I said, "I will let Linc know" (Linc Holland, the man who has never won an argument with me).
"Are you OK?" I asked.
"Well, yes, but I have a little problem...."
"What's up?" I naively asked.
" I am in jail." Johnny replied.
"Oh no!" I exclaimed.
"What happened?" I was now thinking we had a problem with a DUI or scofflaw issue and knowing Johnny as I did, I could picture him sitting in some police holding cell refusing to post bond on principle.
"Well, I was at my mom's house on Thanksgiving and I got into an argument with my brother-in-law and things escalated and, well, someone got stabbed in the arm with the turkey fork."
"Johnny, do you need bail money?" I asked, trying not to laugh out loud. "Are you sitting in jail because your family will not bail you out after impaling your brother-in-law?"
"No," Johnny said, "The judge won't set bail, I have to serve 90 days".
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, I do not qualify for bail because of my previous manslaughter conviction." Johnny said...as if it was a fact that we all had at our fingertips.
Now, I have to say, and I think most folks who know me will agree, that I am rarely at a loss for words. But Johnny stumped me. I sat there, dumbfounded for what felt like a long time....then I heard Johnny put coins in a payphone and that snapped me back. "What conviction, Johny?"
"When I was 17, I was joining a gang in LA. There was an altercation with another gang...someone was shot. I never even saw the gun, but I was slow over a fence and the police caught me. I served 5 years in prison."
I needed time to figure out what we were going to do,"I have to think about this, Johnny. Can you call me back later today?"
"Yes."
Linc and I caucused on this and decided Johnny had to be at work that month or we were going to blow the quarter.
I called the judge on Johnny's case and begged for a work release program It was agreed that Johnny could do work release for two months and then he would have to serve a full month in jail. It was not easy, but the judge was a bit of a technofile and he was delighted to help Sun. Johnny was happy. He wanted to get back to work and spending the nights in the county jail was better than spending all day there.
Q4 was great. Johnny did a great job. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Then Johnny needed to go to jail for a month.
Sun was pretty big by this time. It had policies and procedures and a few personnel police had been hired. I knew that I could not just let Johnny go away for a month without an explanation. He couldn't be paid, he couldn't take vacation...and we were not going to fire him.
I processed what I thought was the appropriate paper work and crossed my fingers.
Crawford Beveridge called me a few days later.
"Nance, talk to me about Johnny DLP" he said.
"What do you want to know?" I asked.
" I have been told you have placed him on educational leave, is that right?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Is he studying at an institution of of higher education?" asked Crawford.
"He is in an institution." I replied.
"What is he learning?" asked CB.
"Uh, advanced social skills?" I answered.
"OK," said the unflappable Crawford, "so long as you think he is getting an education, I will approve this."
I will always love Crawford Beveridge.
When I left Sun, Johnny DLP sent me an adorable note. I hope he is well and staying out of trouble.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 2

When I began at Sun it was booking about $1million in revenue per month. When I left it was booking about $1million in revenue every 90 minutes.

My first day at Sun there were 400 employees already there. My badge number was 586, so a few folks apparently had joined, thought better of it, and left. I get that...Sun was not for the faint-of-heart.

Until I joined Sun, I always felt I was the smartest person in any room I was in (I know it is arrogant, but I have to be honest). I went to Sun Microsystems and that delusion was rapidly shattered. Not feeling like the smartest person in every conversation took some getting used to...but I found it to be both depressing and... thrilling. Sun was the Olympic Training Ground of Smart. You had to be the smartest person in every room you were ever in prior to joining Sun, in order to join Sun. It could take some adjusting for new employees; they would join knowing that in their past lives they were the "A" players; now, at Sun, they were "C's". But, like the Olympic teams once you made the team, even if you were not a medalist, you were part of the team; part of Sun. So, those of us who were not medalists rooted for our Gold, Silver and Bronze earning engineers ( Joy, Bechtelshiem, Gosling, Feiber, Gage, Lee) and following the lead of the brilliant Scooter McNealy, we formed not a cult of personality around our CEO as Apple and Oracle did, but a culture of brilliance. A culture led by a bunch of guys who never wore socks or deodorant.

We worshipped engineers at Sun. We worshipped nerds and geeks long before "The Big Bang Theory" made it cool. Most of these guys did not have any social skills (Bechtolsheim is German...he has lovely manners, so he is a bit of an anomaly) but we knew they were changing our society. When you hired an engineer at Sun you were very aware that you would ultimately be the beneficiary or the victim of whatever he/she invented.

All I ever really understood about what the engineers did at Sun was this: they bent the laws of physics, they shrunk time, they sped up the world in a way that had never been done before; they connected one universe to another in a way that no one had thought of before. I always assumed that if Einstein had had a Sun Workstation, we would have time-travel. I really believed that those engineers could, if they put their minds to it, invent anything....anything. My years at Sun always felt like I was camping-out in Thomas Edison's back-yard. You just never know what would greet you in the morning.

And, those engineers were not the humorless, OCD, Ausbergers syndrome plagued, literal thinking guys you see in the movies. Our engineering team had wit. It was the engineers who assembled a VW Bug in Eric Schmidt's office, floated Eric's office in a pond (with working phone and Internet). floated Bill Joy's Ferrari in a pond, put a water trap in Scooter's office and ran a 40-foot arrow through the building ("all-the-wood-behind-one-arrowhead" was Scooter's favorite phrase at the time).

Of course they could be true pains-in-the-ass, too. My first year at Sun one of the young marketing wonks came to me to complain that he always had to drive when he was with some of his colleagues and their boss, so they could get high. "Pardon me?" I said. "Did you say, get high?" "Yes!" he continued and plaintively asked me to help him figure out a way to not always be the designated driver as one of our senior directors and a bunch of marketing folks toked up on the way to lunch, the airport, the building across the parking lot or...wait for it....a customer visit!

I approached my new boss (yes another new boss), David Leitzke, with this issue and his advice was to discuss it with Carol Bartz...she was the VP of Marketing at the time and the boss of the director who was bringing the dope to the party. Carol was stunned when I told her what was happening. She called the director into her office and confronted her. The director fessed up...a very courageous thing....and then the two of them cried for awhile. I went back to my office and Carol came down to tell me she had sent the director home for a few days while we tried to figure out what to do. This was 1985. There was not the push for "zero-tolerance" that came a bit later. So, Carol, David and I worked out a plan for the director...she was to go to a substance-abuse training program, she would not be eligible for her bonus that year and there would be no promotion to VP, ever. She accepted it and stayed home for a few days. Problem mostly solved. Now we had to let the other partakers know that the "party" was over. I was assigned the task of speaking with each of them and telling them that this was a warning, because the behavior had been led by their boss, they would not be in any trouble, unless it happened again. It seemed pretty fair to me.

Apparently, I was wrong. The next morning 15 or so software engineers lined up outside my office and announced that they were going to sit there and smoke pot all day if anyone got into trouble over the episode. Now, here's the thing, none of the guys outside my office were part of the problem. They had not been part of the original group. I had not spoken to any them. They didn't even like the marketing director who was in trouble. But, they hated the hand of authority more. They had heard through the grapevine that someone was in trouble for smoking pot at work and that was it...a cannabis scented sit in outside my office! Now it was my turn to cry. I was now the "personnel police", something I have worked my whole career not to be. I called David, and he called Carol, they called Crawford Beveridge and Bernie LaCroute and we all ended up in a big conference room with the software guys. In the end ,after a long discussion, the engineers agreed that smoking dope before visiting a customer was not cool. They had misunderstood and thought we were punishing folks for getting high at lunch. That they would not tolerate. So they went back to work, I went back to work, the director went to anti-pot-smoking-school and life went back to normal.

And then George Bush, as the Vice President of the United States, decided to visit Sun.

I was assigned to work with George Grove the facilities director to get ready for Bush to tour the Sun Manufacturing building. It was a stressful time. The Secret Service was all over the place. We had to do background checks on all employees in that building. On the first pass 75 of the 200 or so employees fell out of the background check and had to be told to stay home that day. Including the VP of Operations. So, there was a level of complexity to this visit that we were not really equipped to handle. And then, Crawford Beveridge called me to his office. A group of software engineers had decided to protest Bush's visit to Sun and the use of advanced technology in warfare. Ok, these guys were all Good-Will-Hunting-Wicked-Smart, but they apparently had not realized that most of our revenue came from selling workstations to the three-lettered-agencies of the US government. Who did they think was buying that stuff?

Crawford decided he had to accommodate them. We discussed it with George Grove (former Navy Officer) and the Secret Service. We could set up a roped off area for the engineers to stage their protest, but it had to be 100 yards from the front door of the building. We could all live with that. "Oh, one more thing", the Secret Service guy says as we are about to leave Crawford's office, "I will need to put snipers on the roof of the building across the street, aimed at your engineers." We all stood there silently, I think I actually heard Crawford gulp. "Snipers?" "Yes, otherwise, no visit." So, let's review, the Vice President is coming to visit, almost half the employees from manufacturing cannot come to work that day cause they did something in their youth to make the FBI mad at them, another 200 or so will be protesting this visit and we are going to have military sharpshooters ready to take them out if they cross a line 100 yards from the building. Yep. Crawford said, "Ok".

The lead story that night on the news was not the PR event we had hoped for showing off Sun as the pinnacle of "trickle-down-economics". No, the news led with a shot of 200 scruffy software engineers protesting Reagan, Bush and technology use in warfare at Sun Microsystems, making Sun look like the least gracious and most cool place to work in Silicon Valley. And, if you knew what you were looking for you could just glimpse the rifle barrel over the roof across the street aimed at our brain-trust .

Good times. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 23

My last trip to Linlithgow.


In the early 1990's Linc Holland  moved his family over to Scotland so he could run the WWOP's business in Europe for awhile.

Someone had convinced him that this would be a great opportunity for him.  A real career-builder.

So, the poor misguided guy moved his wife, 4 kids and an elderly dog from Portola Valley, CA to the suburbs of Edinburgh to be a team player and to establish some international management credibility.  Poor sod.

Linc had just settled into his new house (but not really his new role), when our previous peer, and now new boss, John Shoemaker, thought the senior WWOP's team should visit Linc and hold our quarterly WWOP's organizational review at the facility in Linlithgow.

The trip to Linlithgow, Scotland from California was a bit of a trek.  You left San Francisco via British Air at 5:00pm on Sunday night, landing at Heathrow on Monday at 11:00am.  Then, you transferred to British Midlands from Heathrow to Edinburgh; arrived in Edinburgh about 1:00pm, and usually headed directly to the plant for a few hours of meetings etc.  If you could sleep on the first flight you would probably be ok for that first day...including the ritual first evening out with the Scotland boys.  But, knowing that jet lag was going to bite you in the arse sometime in the next 48 hours,  you always tried to make it an early night...hoping against hope that you would not awaken at 1:00am and face the next meeting-packed-day with the dreaded "dullness with a dose of nausea" that jet-lag creates.

My normal routine in those days was to try to sleep as much as possible on the British Air leg of the journey (this was perhaps my 20th time making this trip), so I usually took two dramamine, had two glasses of champagne, put on a sleep mask and ear plugs and told the flight attendant not to wake me until we were approaching Heathrow.

But, on this trip, I traveled over with Ron Lloyd and Kathleen Holmgren.  They were both new to the senior team, having been promoted when Shoemaker took command.  So, I took the dramamine and had the champagne...probably more than two glasses.  Ron, Kathleen and I chatted through dinner...and kibitzed about the relative size of our feet during the movie (we were all in the bulkhead row of Business Class and we were "shushed" repeatedly, the flight attendant actually approached us with her finger up against her lips).  We ate some Godiva's,  had some port or Baileys and really just had time for a quick nap before Ron was waking Kathleen and me up so we did not miss the breakfast service.  My routine was shot and I knew in the back of my mind that I would pay for it at some point during the trip, but it was fun to kid around with those two as we flew over the north pole.

The first afternoon in Linlithgow was fine. 

At about 6:00pm we went over to the hotel and checked-in to freshen up for the dinner festivities.  Shoemaker had requested that we all stay at the charming Airth Castle Hotel in Falkirk, which is just what it sounds like; a hotel that was once a castle.

As it happened Ron, Kathleen and I had rooms on the very top floor (we could have looked out of the battlements from our windows if the sun didn't go down at 3pm during the winter) down a very narrow hallway from each other.  I was at the end of the hall in a dimly lit room with a very high ceiling, a very tall canopy bed, and when I first checked in, a very dead bat caught in the very tall canopy.  I pointed the dead thing out to the bellman and asked for a new room.

The manager on duty came up and explained that the Castle was full and that there were no other rooms to be had.  Seems they didn't usually rent these rooms on the top floor, but it was the week of Robert Burns birthday and they were full-up.  So, he sent some folks to remove the flying rodent, along with the canopy...they also changed all the bedding as I turned circles in the tile bathroom, which was the only part of the room where the corners were well lit.  I asked for some brighter lighting in the room, but was told that the electrical system could not support bulbs with any greater wattage (this explained why there was also no TV in the room).  So, I asked them to shine a flashlight in all the corners to assure me that there were no more visitors in the room.  This they did, but it was not very comforting, as each time the bellman moved his flashlight to a new dark place in the room, he flinched as though he expected something to come flying at him.  There was also an occasional gust of wind that whipped through the room.  Upon closer examination I discovered that each of the west facing windows had a 1/2 inch gap at the top.

By the time I came down for dinner I had already had enough of the charming Castle.

My mood was also a little sour because I had been up for about 27 hours with only 90 minutes of sleep.  I was feeling the fatigue and vowed to turn in early and sleep all night.  We had a full day the next day.  You do not fly 10 people six-thousand miles for nothing.  We had important business to attend to.

We had dinner at another charming historic Scottish establishment in the area, returned to the Castle, had one drink at the little bar and then we all took the lift up to our rooms.  Well, Ron, Kathleen and I had to walk up another flight after the elevator hit it's final stop...we were in the rafters of this place.  We were to assemble in the lobby the next morning at 8:30am for a series of important meetings at the plant starting at 9.  Fair enough.

I got ready for bed and was reading about 40 minutes later when there was this buzzing-zipping-buzzing sound and all the dim lights went out.  I headed for the door and ran smack into Kathleen coming out of her room.  It was dark.

I was just beginning to curse Scotland and all of it's ancestry, when Kathleen said, "I think I blew a fuse."
"Did you plug your hairdryer in?"  I asked.
"No."  She responded.
"Well, what did you do?" I was getting impatient in the dark; wondering what was lurking in the corners.
"I thought I had the right adapter." Kathleen replied.
"What in God's name did you plug in?" I pushed.
"My breast-pump." she sheepishly replied.
Uh oh.  TMI.  Kathleen had given birth to her youngest child a few months earlier.  This was her first trip since the baby was born.  Apparently, she was no longer nursing the baby during the day, but was still doing so at night.  She had brought a portable breast-pump with her and when she plugged it in, she took out the lights in our wing of the Castle.

The lights weren't coming back on, but it seemed it was only our floor that was affected, I could see lights on when I looked down the stairway.  I tip-toed down to the front desk, woke up the desk-clerk and explained that the lights had gone out.  I did not tell them why. (I haven't ever told anyone why until now...sorry Kathleen, your secret was only safe for 16 years).  The desk clerk asked if we "needed" them on before morning.  I replied that yes, I really thought we might.

So, another Scottsman came grumbling up to our floor, flipped a circuit breaker, and dim lights flickered on.

Kathleen came out the door of her room with the breast-pump in hand.  The plug and cord were melted.

"I think the baby will be weaned this week." Kathleen said forlornly.  Hey, it happens to all of us sooner or later.

I did not go to sleep that night.  I read the book "Disclosure" cover to cover, listened to the wind whistling around the ill-sealed windows, kept a look out for bats and never closed my eyes.  At 6:30am I drifted to sleep only to have the alarm go off at 7:15am.  I got up and took a lukewarm shower in a freezing cold room, longing for the Edinburgh Sheraton, with it's bright lights, phoney Castle decor, hot water and CNN.

I felt hung-over, I had eyestrain from reading in the dim light all night and I looked like crap...I looked worse than crap...really, if someone had told me I looked like crap, I would have taken it as a compliment.

I had  gone too long with too little sleep.  I was dead tired and the sleep that eluded me all night was now calling to me.  But no, I would not be tempted.   I had important meetings to go to that day; the kind of meetings you fly 10 people six-thousand miles to attend!

We gathered in the lobby and went through the ritual questions about how each of us slept the night before (Sleep is a major topic on business trips.  No one ever asks you how you slept the night before when you are in your usual place of business, but the minute you check into the same hotel everyone becomes acutely curious about how much REM time you logged the night before).  Everyone had a story about how they had not gotten enough sleep; awaking too often or too early or like me, measuring their sleep in minutes not hours.  We made a few lame jokes about needing naps later in the day, probably during Shoemakers part of the agenda, and set off for the plant....looking forward to copious quantities of caffeine and some breakfast in the cafeteria.

I knew the day was doomed when we got to the cafeteria and it was closed.  Coffee was available, and of course tea.  But there was no food in sight.  Shoemaker went nuts.  He was stunned that the place could be closed at 8:45am.  In California our cafeteria was open all day.  John clearly believed the closed cafeteria represented a character flaw in the Scottish people and he made his feelings known to what appeared to be the most senior of the cafeteria attendants.

About this time, Linc strolled up (Linc has never moved fast in all of his life, I really do not know how he considers himself to be a basketball player...he literally strolls everywhere he goes) and explained that the cafeteria had been open since very early in the morning, like 5:30am until 8:00am...it closed for an hour or two to clean up and begin to prepare for lunch; but it would reopen at break-time for the plant employees, around 9:30am.

"This is a manufacturing plant," Linc explained, "and it was not set up to accommodate the executive lifestyle."

Shoemaker didn't buy it and insisted they open the cafeteria so the visiting executives could get something to eat. 

So, our boss and our host are bickering about breakfast before the meeting has even started.  Good times so far.

We assembled in the largest conference room in the facility, on a cat-walk above the cafeteria and commenced with the agenda.

The morning meeting was pretty normal; updates from around the room.  We broke at noon for lunch and reassembled at 1:00pm for the main event:  a discussion of the variety of tax advantages offered by different countries in Europe.

Linc had arranged for a presentation by one of the foremost authorities on tax incentives.  The guy had flown up from London.  He was an accountant/solicitor and a highly sought after consultant.  He was also the single most boring person I have ever encountered.

This humorless guy with a droning, "plummy," hard-for-Americans-to-understand-accent, whipped out no less than 85 overhead slides; filled with single spaced content in 6pt type and proceeded to read them to us.

I realized during slide 2 that I was going to be in trouble.  I'd had a hard time staying alert through the morning session...now, severely jet lagged, sitting in a darkened room, after a heavy Scots lunch, with a presenter that was the human equivalent of white noise...I was doomed.  I looked around the room and realized I was not alone.  Everyone who had arrived by plane the day before was struggling.

I decided that I would try to keep myself awake by having a little fun and started serruptitiously making faces at each of my jet lagged colleagues, trying to get them to perk up a bit.  I thought, perhaps if I could get them to smile we could rally our energy and get through this.  We had, after all, flown six thousand miles for this presentation and discussion.  There were about 20 of us gathered around a large U-shaped table; Linc's local staff was sitting up front near the presenter; the out-of-towners were in the back of the room; Shoemaker was sitting to my right, about 4 chairs from me.

By the time the presenter was on slide #16 or so, I'd made eye contact with each of the folks at my end of the table, Ron, Kathleen, Dean, Mel, Kevin Walsh, and others whose names have seeped from my feeble brain, winking or crossing my eyes and getting smiles and rolled eyes back.  Some of them pantomimed sleeping or snoring.  Twice I tried to make eye contact with Bob Coe but he seemed to be consciously avoiding looking at me.  I took this as a challenge.

At slide #31 or so we were well over an hour into the presentation and things were getting desperate in the back of the room.   I composed a short note and passed it to my left, with the instructions to read it and pass it along.  Ron Lloyd made a "shame on you" face at me, opened the note and stifled a laugh.  Kathleen took the note from Ron, shook her head at me, telling me she was not going to read it, opened it anyway and put her head in her hands.  She pretended to cough to cover a laugh.  Bob Coe had never looked in my direction, but when he heard Kathleen begin to laugh, he started to giggle.  The rest of us followed suit.   Now the back of the room was in a full-out case of the giggles.  Linc was shooting dirty looks at us, which made it even more funny.  The note continued to be passed through about 10 hands with the same effect, a beseeching look to me or a scowl, open the note, and then suppressed laughter.  Then as we were getting ourselves under control, the note was passed to Bob Coe.

Bob took the note and held it for a long time, never looking in my direction.  Then he opened it and read the following: "If you drive your pen into your thigh, it will help you stay awake."

Bob rose from his chair with the note in his hand and went to the very back of the room and leaned against the wall.  He was looking straight forward when I noticed a tear running down his face.  Then he turned around, leaned his forehead against the wall and I could see his shoulders shaking.  Coe had lost it.   We all followed suit.

Bob Coe, barked an "Excuse me" as he bolted out of the conference room.  Shoemaker declared a "bio break" and we all headed out.

Bob Coe was laying on the carpet outside the conference room on his stomach, laughing.  He could not catch his breath.  Kathleen, Dean and I made a bee-line for the ladies room, (laughter has that effect on women) and the rest of Shoemaker's "seagull" staff was bent over the railings of the cat-walk laughing and drying their tears.  I remember Bob squeeking, "I flew six thousand miles for this?"

The only people who were not amused were the presenter and Linc Holland.

We apologized to the consultant for our jet-lagged response.  And he was gracious...boring as hell but gracious. The absurdity of having us sit through that presentation on the second and notoriously most jet-lagged of days is something I have never let Linc live down.  It was so ill-advised, one would think my very smart friend Linc knew what he was doing and did it on purpose. 

The rest of the trip sorted itself out.  We went to a Robert Burns birthday party that night and all toasted to the "King of the Puddin' Race."  We drank a wee dram and each and every one of us slept well.  The next day and the day after that we conducted ourselves like the professionals we were.  We talked about tax advantages in Europe and outsourcing and supplier report cards and no one was in danger of wounding themselves with their Mont Blanc again during this meeting.  It ended up being a meeting worth flying 10 people six thousand miles to attend.

The facility in Scotland is long gone.  The meetings, the dinners, the pub-crawls, the drinks with no ice and the salads with too much mayonnaise are over.  I miss it all.

I left Sun a few months later to be the VP of HR at Gymboree.  It was a mistake.  Gymobree was so dull it made the guy with the 85 slides look like Chris Rock.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Life in the Boys' Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 18

 "I think she went to the john."

I spent 8 years as the only woman on the WWOPs senior staff. 

Every Thursday morning we met at 8am and spent the next 3 hours together getting the download on what the EMG was up to, reviewing the metrics and goals and then doing the round-table thing; hearing from whoever was part of the team at the time, some combination of:  Russ and Kevin and Bob and Mel and Jim and Curt and Bob and Bob and Scott and Ian and Dave and Linc and Irwin and John and Greg and Hara San.

And then, before we got into any prepared presentations, we took a bio break.

I went to the ladies room and all the guys went to the men's room.

And they stayed in there.

Talking.

Continuing the meeting without me.

Every week this happened.

They stood around the men's room discussing the hot topic of the day.  They chatted while every last one of them finished their business and washed their hands and then they hung around in there some more, just gabbing.

Sometimes they agreed on a course of action in there.

They made decisions.

Some sort of bias toward action took over when they were lined up at the urinals.

And I was not there.  I was not participating.  I was not learning.  I was not contributing.  I was sitting alone in the conference room waiting for them; feeling pretty stupid. Or I was lurking in the hall; feeling pretty stupid.  Or I was or in the kitchen; feeling pretty stupid.

I mentioned this casually to Jim Bean.  But he did not seem to get the point, which made me feel pretty stupid.

I did not like this at all.

As I have mentioned before, I had 4 brothers.  The best lessons I ever learned about working with men were directly related to my childhood.  I knew that whining or tattling or making a fuss was the surest way to a life of ridicule and emotional torture.  Never let your brothers or your male colleagues know what irks you.  It only gives them fodder for torment.

So, I determined I was going to have to handle this in a way that would make them aware of the issue without giving them ammunition.

One Thursday as we were working our way through the round-table discussion I excused myself from the meeting and left the conference room.

I made a beeline for the men's room and after assessing that it was empty, I sneaked in and waited in stall #3.

About 5 minutes later the boys from WWOP's started filing in...I heard one of them say, "Where did Hauge go?" and another replied "I think she went to the john."

At that moment before any flys were opened, I spoke up, "I am here...in stall #3.  I thought that it would be helpful if I came in here since so much of the meeting is happening in here these days.  Go on about your business guys.  I am fine where I am and we can continue the discussion as long as you like, just tell me when it is safe to come out."

Silence.  Not a zipper was stirring. 

I never had to crash the men's room again (although I did once go as someone's guest...but that is another story).

The men of WWOP's had a sense of humor and they got the point.  They never again left me out of discussions.   As a matter of fact, lots of conversations that had nothing to do with me at all ended up taking place in my office,  those guys went out of their way to include me after that...I think they might have been afraid of where I would pop up next!

More soon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 16

 
"For some moments in life there are no words."  ~David Seltzer, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory



When the new SVP of HR delivered the news that I was not going to be part of his organization, he also said, "If the line guys like you so much, let one of them give you a job."  

That night John Shoemaker called me at home.  It was 10:00pm and John knew three things:  1.  I was home alone (my husband was putting the final touches on a new play in southern California that week)  2.  In order to deliver this message in person, the new SVP of HR had summoned me back to California from Chicago where I was keeping vigil over my kid-brother, Sam, who was dying of AIDS.  3.  I was returning to Chicago in just a couple of days with or without a job at Sun, to finish the hard work waiting for me there.   

John's call was one of the nicest moments of my life.   John and his beautiful wife, Donna were personal  friends.  Donna had been our realtor earlier in the year when we bought our home.  They had been to our house for Christmas Eve dinner.  John and my son Andy had a bond.  But it was not just my friend John on the other end of the phone.  He was explaining that he had spoken with some of the other execs in WWOP's and Sales and a couple of other groups.  I was not to worry, they had already thought of several things I could do if I wanted to stay at Sun and not be in HR.  John asked if I would be able to sleep that night.  I lied and said yes, I would.  I will never forget his kindness.


The next morning I went to my office in Pal 1 wondering what in hell I was going to do.  I had a message waiting from Talmy Rausch.  Talmy was a character among characters.  A former Israeli military officer, Talmy lives by a code.  His profession is Quality.  Talmy is cerebral and judgmental and Quality is the perfect choice.  Talmy explained that one of the more brutal theories of establishing leadership is to publicly "take out" the most powerful follower, or the most beloved, to let the rest of the team know that there are no sacred cows and to establish dominance.  It was Talmy's theory that I had been kicked out of HR for just this reason; the new guy needed to establish dominance.  Talmy is a lovely man who never suggested that my smart-ass ways had caught up with me.  I will never forget his low, soft voice with that amazing Israeli accent on the phone.  It didn't matter what he said, it was just so soothing to hear him talk.


There was a message from Kevin Melia, the CFO  to come by his office when I got in.  So I headed up to the 5th Floor with some trepidation.   The guy that, just the day before, had gutted-me-and-left-me-for-dead-on-the-side-of-the-road had his office on the 5th floor and, while I know this will shock you, I was not that thrilled about running into him.


I came around the corner from the elevators and entered the Pal 1 executive area (McNealy's office in the center, flanked by Raduchel's and Melia's) just as Scott came out of his office.  And one of the most shocking moments of my life occurred.  Scooter came over with that big, cute-but-goofy, grin of his and scooped me up in a hug. 

"Thank God we got you out of HR!" he said, like I had just been ransomed out of Guerrero.  Now, that you are out of there you can do something valuable around here!" (I knew Scott did not see a lot of value in HR.  One time I asked him to speak at an HR meeting and suggested he be encouraging to the group as they were feeling somewhat overlooked.  His response was, "I did not choose their professions...if they want more respect in this company they should have gone into engineering or sales."  Hand-to-God, that is what he said....ya' gotta love this guy.)

I was having a hard time holding it together and my eyes filled with tears. 

Scott noticed and changed his tone a bit, "I heard about your brother.  Bummer, Nance.  But, go do what you have to do and when you get back come see me, I have a special assignment for you." 

Not sure this is one the "line guys" the new SVP of HR had in mind......


but I thought.... hmmmm.



 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 14.3

Rules and Raduchelisms

Bill Raduchel has a set of guiding principles he uses when managing teams. (Ok, I am using the term "managing" loosely.  Bill does not manage.  It is much more binary than that.  You either get Bill and survive or you do not get him and...well...those rumors were not all fiction.) 


A few years ago when I worked with Bill at Ruckus he pulled out these 11 B.W.O.W.'s (the Millennials we worked with called them "Bill's Words of Wisdom") and I recognized immediately the rules he laid out for the HR Team at Sun in 1991.   The Millennials figured out how to adopt these rules much faster than the experienced HR Team at Sun.  I love the Sun HR Team (well, I love about 8 of the 600 of them, I like about 20 more....the rest, eh, mezzo mezzo at best),  let's face it, they were a group that took themselves far too seriously. 


Bill's Rules:

1.  No surprises.  Even good surprises mean that communication was poor.


The Sun HR team spent weeks working on communication processes.  Trying to understand who was surprising whom, how to enfranchise all, how to communicate upward and downward, how and with what frequency to report out to Bill, etc. etc. etc. (I am a little car-sick just thinking about it).






The funniest aspect of Bill's "no surprises" rule is that he is the king of the sucker punch.  Bill thrives on surprising others with new thinking, new plans, new product ideas.  I have seen him announce wholesale change in strategy or policy, totally out of the blue.  

So, it is not "surprise" as a concept Bill has the issue with.......don't surprise Bill.

2.  "Not me" is never the right answer.  No abdication.  Step up.

This rule is really the most definitive proof that Bill had never managed HR before.   

Most of us went into HR so we could have maximum influence with the least amount of accountability.  

Step up?  Stepping up is what line managers do.  We are HR...we sit on the sidelines and point out what others are doing wrong.  

Crawford Beveridge had once published as the HR Mission that we should "stay off the critical path."  He meant that we should not impede or slow down the business.  But most of HR interpreted it as "don't do anything."  So, you can imagine the response to a new boss who asked us to jump in and take some accountability. 



3.  Communication is not "telling."  You must test for understanding.

I love this because it is sooooo Bill.  Notice that listening is not part of this equation.  In brilliant Bill's world communication is telling and then making sure the recipient understood.  Asking them what they thought would really be a waste of time now, dontcha think? 


If you are Bill, this works.  If you are me, you can expect some push back at the "telling" stage...even if they do understand.

4.  We are all on the same team.  No infighting.

If it wasn't for infighting I would have had virtually no reason to even talk to my colleagues in HR.  

But, Bill hoped to be an example that professional differences did not need to stand in the way of positive professional relationships.  

It was just about this time that one of the EMG, in an animated discussion with some of their colleagues, hurled a chair out of a second floor window to emphasis a point, and then went on record as saying they would never again speak to the colleague who had expressed the alternative opinion.  Same team, differing opinions, but no infighting.


Bill had some work to do making this one stick.


5.  Pay attention to the white space.  If no one owns it,  follow up until someone does.

We all knew this was only going to lead to heartache and trouble.  

At Sun, if no one wanted to own "it," you could only deduce that it was because "it" was a flaming-bag-of-dog-doo-doo.  

This was especially true in Sun HR, as I learned when I ended up owning things like VP and Director conferences or new "Employee/Employer Covenants." 

 
6.  Solve backwards.

This assumes you can see the end-state.  Bill was pushing a rope on this one.  

HR at this point, was mostly transactional and not so good at it.  Seeing a better future state and then solving in reverse to the present state was not in the core skill set of the team.  Most of my colleagues spent their time worrying about getting the next review process out-of-the-way.  Not big thinkers on the whole (don't get me wrong, there was some amazing state-of-the-art-HR-work going on at Sun, but it was mostly being done by the brilliant Marianne Jackson, the wise Pam Headsten, the creative Patty McCord and the unflappable Gus Gannon, all under the corporate radar....yes, I know they all reported to me...if you want to give a shout-out to someone else's HR team at Sun in the '90's, get your own blog). 

 But, God love Bill, he came in swinging for the fences on this.  Bill was determined that this was going to be a strategic and plan-capable group when he was done with it. 

7.  Focus on outcomes.

What?  Outcomes?  But what about process?  

In the early 1990's all Sun HR could talk about was "process." And then, along comes Bill and suggests that process is only as good as the product or decision it delivers.  Oh dear, we didn't see that one coming.  Bill could see that we were hiding accountability in the trees of "process" and he was having none of it.  Like a true horror-story-villian Bill took a chain-saw to the illusion of good-process and asked us to measure ourselves on actual accomplishment.  Ouch.


8.  Inspection.  Quality comes through testing.

Bill's version of inspection would have made the architects of the Spanish Inquisition proud.

 
9.  Careful with email.

Bill focused on choosing your communication mediums well.  Make sure you deliver your messages with a vehicle that serves the sender and the receiver.  Email is not always good for every message and then there is the big one....the dreaded Big "R" mistake.  Replying to all when you meant the oh-so-clever-pithy-smart-ass-comment to only go back to the sender.  

I found this rule a little strange considering how many times I had been fired via email by Bill in the years he had been Boo Raduchel.  Yes, he denies it now, but Bill fired me several times over email.   I would take the email to whoever was my HR or line boss at the time and they would explain that Bill was just venting and that I was to lay-low and it would pass.  It always did.
 
10.  Respect and manage time.

Don't be late.  Don't waste time with unnecessary background.  Don't pad projects.  Don't sandbag.  Bill was pretty clear that money could be replaced, but time, once spent or lost, was unrecoverable.  
For a group that loved to delay decisions while they regurgitated the past, replayed last weeks arguments and avoided deadlines, Bill's sense of time-to-action was shocking. 
 
11.  Attenuate, do not amplify.


Who was he kidding? Even after looking up "attenuate" we didn't get it.  

Amplification was the tool of HR.  Running around creating drama, screaming from the rooftops that the sky-was-falling was the currency of HR.  How would we get anything done if we focused and dialed down the volume?

Outcomes.

With these rules, Bill set us up as a function to be strategic, creative and accountable.  As a result we were more respected and much more effective.  And the EMG, who had been so cute when Bill was announced in this HR role now realized they had a function to deal with.  We were not just a piece of Crawford Beveridges Facilities/IT/HR group.  We were a stand alone function, ready to be lead by a full-time member of the EMG.   It was a constant stretch intellectually...and it was appropriate...one time Bill said to the group, "Why should I hold you to lower standards than that which we hold the Engineers?  Why should you be allowed to be less creative?"  

I might have loved "a cascade of bargains"  but his assertion that we were to be as creative as the Engineers at Sun and develop our products with the same focus on customer need was life changing for me.  I never looked at my HR  career the same.  I could not be more grateful. 




From January 1990 until August 1992 I had my peak HR working experience.  I learned more about how to run HR from Kevin Melia and Bill Raduchel in that period of time than I had in all of my career previously or have since.  Right time, right place, right people.  I lucked into Sun HR and was dragged kicking and screaming into learning from these two brilliant-but-oh-so-different men.

I tease my HR colleagues here.  In reality, I have enormous respect for all of them.  


In my HR career at Sun I was privileged to work with the best and the brightest HR minds in Silicon Valley or anywhere on earth. 


My HR career allowed me to have an impact on others lives.  I was so proud of the work I got to do.  

I got to help get some folks be promoted to VP...who went on to be CEO's.  

I got to bully some VP's into promoting more women to Director level and they went on to being extraordinary VP's and CEO's.  

I got to help some folks into rehab...and they are still alive.  

I got to coach a few folks into fulfilling potential that I could see, but they did not know they had.  


I got to give away 400 $100 bills in Operations at the end of one quarter.


I got to write jokes to "warm-up"  McNealy's speeches.

I got to hire, train, coach, review, promote, transfer and exit some of the most talented people on earth.

I worked with that brilliant, amazing, world-class, quirky population for 8 years and I loved my job every single day.  

I probably loved it too much.









Thursday, February 25, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 12

A Few Tidbits, Unconfirmed but, RUMORED to be True.
Or maybe I am just worried about lawsuits?

A dead camel at the bottom of a swimming pool after a Sales event in Palm Springs (Please, no cries about PETA...that spitting dromedary should not have been drinking in the hot-tub with  Joe Roebuck if it knew it couldn't swim).

A $3000 cleaning bill from a hotel in Monterey after the "Silly String" episode.

McNealy dancing on top of a piano (pick the event, based upon the rumors, he apparently did this everywhere he went, although I never witnessed it).

A manager who checked himself into a 30 day rehab program rather than face his VP over a $42k dinner and bar bill for 10.

Bill Joy was the inspiration for the character of Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.

More sexual harassment claims brought against women than men at Sun in the first 13 years.

The guy who fell into the hole outside Mt View 4 after a Friday beer-bust; remaining there until Sam Williams found him on Monday morning.

Marriott Hotels banning Sun employees from ever booking a room in their hotels after a Sales event.

A group of Christian Brothers throwing a bunch Sun employees off of their premises in the middle of the night and then banning any Sun employee from ever attending a tasting (after a Sales event).

Ron Lloyd trying to cure his recent Salmon catch in the manufacturing test ovens in Milpitas.

Crawford Beveridge standing on the roof of Milpitas 1, proving to a group of software engineers that they could still see the Hoover Tower at Stanford from that vantage point, before signing the lease.


Kathleen Holmgren testing the new automated manufacturing line by climbing into a bin and launching herself through the process.

Wayne Rosing refusing to arrive for a departing flight any earlier than it's actual departure time.

The comedian Pat Paulson looking around at a meeting of 400 employees, spotting Scott and asking, "Who's running this place?  Beaver Cleaver?" (Oh, yeah. I know for a fact that one is true.)

More soon