Monday, October 6, 2014

Unreasonable, indeed!

My HR team has done some remarkable work lately.  I got the press, but they did the heavy lifting.  Including taking unreasonable ideas I threw around and making them a process and system in which we can all be proud.  They made Oracle cry "Uncle" and then thank them for the pain. 

This team is pretty extraordinary.  The truth is I hire really well.  How did I learn to do that?  Necessity.  As a person with no discernable skills, I learned early on that I had to hire people much better than myself, if I intended to have a future.

My team today is very young...but they are gifted and creative and resourceful and a joy to work with every day. 

And I learned how to hire well in 1986/87/88 when I was in over my nose at Sun this team knows that they are part of what I think of as my only professional legacy....turning HR wonks into contributing members of society.

An example:

"Hello! I am the acting recruiting manager, and today I've decided to act like Bette Davis, 'What-a-dump!'  Are you Nancy?"

And with those words I met Patty McCord.

Patty McCord.
I was waiting to interview for a job at Seagate in Scotts Valley, CA.  It was 1987 and I was snooping around, testing the waters of other companies, trying to see if I was marketable and how much my services might command out in the world beyond Sun.  A soft-spoken woman had called me about an opportunity at Seagate, but when I arrived for an interview I was met by this strawberry-blond-dynamo.  Short, cute and a bundle of energy, she never stopped talking on the way back to her office.  She greeted and teased everyone we passed by.  She launched into a description of the company, the products, the personalities, the facilities, her background as a diversity recruiter  and I think she described the men's room to me all in the time it took to walk 300 feet.  She explained that she was in this acting role because her boss was out having a baby or a nervous breakdown or something.  I was laughing the entire time and out of breath by the time I sat down.

After 30 minutes of conversation she said, "I am going to send you into meet the CEO, but I can tell you right now that you do not want this job.  You have a great job.  Our job is not as good. Don't leave Sun for Seagate, no matter what they offer you."

The next day I called Patty McCord and offered her a job working for me at Sun.  She declined.  Then, after thinking about it for a week she called back and accepted.  And God touched me right on the forehead.

Pam Headsten, the greatest recruiter ever, had taken on some generalist duties and was now drowning in the same pool of overcommitments that had almost killed me a year earlier.  I had suggested she focus on recruiting, give up the generalist duties, and we could build a recruiting team around her.  She turned me down and asked instead to be a full-time generalist.  She explained that she wanted to get a Masters' degree in Organizational Development and the HR job was more in line with her long-term interests.  She was right.  She is a brilliant generalist.  OK.  That meant I had to find a recruiting manager for the World Wide Operations Group.  And, serendipitously, just a few days later, I met Patty.

In addition to the 100% growth per year we were trying to cope with, the wonks at corporate were starting to throw the word "diversity" around.   Frankly, it worried me a bit.  We had a group of white, male, Anglo-Saxons running HR (Seriously the VP and three of his directors were from the UK for pity sakes.  They thought diversity was having a German guy and an Italian guy at the table).  In the operational groups we had diversity up the wazoo.  The flags of many nations hung over the achievements at Sun.  But we were not running the kind of diversity programs our competition were focusing on, so when Patty referenced her experience with the subject in our interview at Seagate something clicked in my feeble brain.   I knew that if I wanted a voice in how Sun was going to address this topic, I needed an expert on my team.  I need to hire better than my competition for mind share.  Enter Patty.

The truth is Patty made me laugh.  I could not resist her.  She was smart and funny and she seemed not to be intimidated by anyone.  Her energy and enthusiasm were contagious.  I am always described as "high-energy" but I cannot hold a candle to Patty.  Additionally, I believed that if you were going to get the organization to embrace diversity programs, they were going to have to be run by someone with a sense of humor.

Patty worked for me for a about a year bringing a volume hiring process to chaos, she worked with corporate and eased the tensions between what they could provide and what we needed .  Then she went off and gave birth to twins.  She returned to work and I talked her into taking a year as an expat in Scotland.  Game girl that she is, she packed up her babies and took on the heavy lifting of bringing Sun's American culture to Linlithgow.  When she got back to the states she joined the corporate group and moved into the role as Director of Diversity at the corporate level.  No one who ever met Patty did not want to hire her or work for her.  She added some world-class talent to the mix, Debbie Dagit and Hazel Hatcher climbed aboard the rocket ship just to work with this amazing talent. 

As the advocate of diversity at Sun, Patty made white men tongue-tied, black women shake their heads in admiration, Asian engineers lust after her, Pakistani finance guys laugh-out-loud and all of HR wish they could appear so effortless in their endeavors.  She brought everyone together with her humor and her irreverence.  If you are going to tackle a politically correct topic, make sure you do it with good humor or you will lose your audience.  Patty has never had a shrill day in her life.

Patty left Sun to work at Borland, a shorter commute and more stock options.  Diversity takes on new meaning when you work for a Frenchman who believes in nude swimming in the company pool.  She was just the girl for the task.  She joined a few other start-ups along the way.

Patty is now a high paid speaker and consultant after her last gig as the Chief Talent Office for Netflix.  She had been with them since the first DVD left the distribution center.  She has traveled a long way from that odd little borrowed office at Seagate.

And for a brief time she worked at Sun and made me look better than I ever deserved.

Unreasonable, indeed!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I met two young women this month that took my breath away. 

Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane schlepped down the peninsula to meet for lunch after they had republished one of my blog pieces about women CEO's on their magazine, Model View Culture . I arrived at Joanie's in Palo Alto, smug, ready to be the estrogen-depleted-aged-sage, prepared to be the experienced crone-with-cahones, who had survived the sexism and misogyny of the  '70's, 80's, '90's & '00's and lived to tell the professional tale.  My "Queen of France" voice was warmed up to pontificate about my experience...oh, the wisdom I would impart...the pearls of philosophy and humor I would leave them with.........and 90 seconds in I discovered that I was outclassed, out-shone and out-thunk at every turn.  These girls were serious about this stuff....and not likely to be impressed with the lame-humor-facile-observations which are my raison d'ĂȘtre. 

First, they are full grown adults who were born about the time I learned to drop the F-bomb....(and although I was a late entrant to the game of obscenity, I had apparently not fully comprehended that my vocabulary enlarged to include that word about half my lifetime ago.)  So, while “young” they are grown-ups….not really looking for a teacher.

Second, these young women have about 6 degrees between them, each with both technology (yes, real technology, one has a EE) and liberal arts....and an MA in Public Health thrown in for good measure. As they went through their short-but-impressive verbal resumes, they casually mentioned Vanderbilt, Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Chicago.  So, even if they were looking for some sort of teacher/mentor…they have standards that I could never live up to.

After finishing a serious commitment to higher Ed, they each started careers in Silicon Valley, succeeded in their endeavors, bounced their beautiful craniums against the glass ceiling a couple of times, and then did something pretty wonderful.  They said, "Screw this!" and started their own company. A technology driven media company about technology, media, culture and the human experience in 2014. 

These girls are scary smart.  They are also thoughtful, articulate, ambitious, creative and honest.  They are part of the top 1% of intellect and capability.  And as I sat there listening to them, laughing with them, admiring them, wishing they were my daughters, I had to wonder…..What the f*ck is wrong with Silicon Valley?  How did these two remarkable women get pushed out of corporate America so early?  Has there really been so little change to the unthinking misogyny I encountered in the 1980’s?
I would be ashamed, and I would expect to be fired if I let talent of this caliber slip away from my company.  But some HR wonk like me did let them slip away.  And I worry I have cavalierly let young woman slip away….especially when they were daunted by the obstacles and obtuseness of a world that claims to only value break-through-thinking, but gives you demerits for breasts attached to brains.
So, I sat there and realized that I have let my position in life allow me to become complacent about the plight of young women in the workplace.  At my age and position in the world, I do not encounter the same kind of sexism I used to deal with every day…partly because I am really old, and there are no longer any hormonal “tensions” with my colleagues….and my professional status (achieved via tenacity over merit, trust me) demands a bit of respect.  Do I still find sexist behaviors? Sure I do…sometimes men ignore or talk over me (interestingly it is most often my beloved former Sun Microsystems colleagues who subject me to this rude practice).  But at this point in life I can tease them, threaten to kick their butts around the parking lot and shock them out of ignoring me.  I have tools available to me at 60 that a girl in her 20’s just cannot access.  
In the end the only tools these girls have available to them is their astounding intellects and a pen.  In this day and age we call it “technology driven media” but let’s be clear, it is smaller than a penis, but still mightier than the sword.

So, I am rooting for Model View Culture (they had to explain the name to me...a riff on some programming protocol...see, smart cookies), and not just because they had the good taste to use my words.  And not just because it is founded by two young women.  No, I root for MVC because, as I have said before, I am in love with smart, young entrepreneurs...and Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane are all of that, indeed.  And Silicon Valley better watch out, ‘cause these girls have brains and focus and rigor….and they also have the pen in their hand, now…..

So, I am rooting for Model View Culture (they had to explain the name to me...a riff on some programming protocol...see, smart cookies), and not just because they had the good taste to use my words.  And not just because it is founded by two young women.  No, I root for MVC because, as I have said before, I am in love with smart, young entrepreneurs...and Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane are all of that, indeed.  And Silicon Valley better watch out, ‘cause these girls have brains and focus and rigor….and they also have the pen in their hand, now…..

The gravitas of my age and experience apparently also has brought blindness to the ongoing frustrations of the women who have followed me into the workforce.  It is easy for me to think, "what are you whining about...I was once told that I earned plenty for 'a mom'".   But that attitude from me has made me stupid about what young woman still face every day...even in the ultimate meritocracy that is Silicon Valley.

As these two shockingly talented women recounted the frustrations of their high-tech experience (from constant concern about how to dress for work without either denying who they are or inviting unwanted attention…to despair over watching less capable male colleagues be embraced and promoted….to anger over the lack of female support systems), I felt my heart break.  How had I become so arrogant?  How had I not noticed that so little had changed?  How am I going to fix this?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 24

"I just want to party all the time, party all the time party all the time...."

Yes, I am shamelessly leveraging the picture I snapped last night of these two unsavory order to get folks to the Sun reunion. 

When I joined Sun in the early autumn of 1984, I was 30 years old and had never been to a "company party."

I had worked with companies that occasionally sponsored a nice lunch or even a very well-mannered cocktail party for customers/clients.  But I had never worked in a company that "celebrated" with the entire employee population.

I had never heard of a Beer Bust.  I was from Chicago...where people do not hang around after 4:30 on a Friday to catch up on the weeks events.  In Chicago you are trying to pretend you have to go to the john at 4:30 so you can sneak down the elevator and start your weekend in a pub, with fingers crossed that your supervisor does not notice you are gone.  I could not understand the Beer Bust concept..."What do you mean we all gather at 4:30pm on a Friday for a beer?"  "With the executives?"  "Why?"  I was "Alice Through the Looking Glass" in a surreal environment where people wanted to stick around for a bit on a Friday and spend more time with the boss. I did not get it.

My first Friday at Sun, in October of 1984, Lin Trahan and I spent the afternoon trying to figure out how many folks had been added to the headcount that week, so Scott McNealy could announce the new hires at the Beer Bust.  Sun was hiring so rapidly in those days, that it was hard to actually keep track of who had started, how many offers were made and accepted and how many new hires were starting the next week.  Counting heads was a major challenge at Sun for the entire 10 years I worked there. It was like trying to count the passengers on train as it whizzes by.  The math was always wrong and you got whiplash for the effort.

But we pressed on.  The week of October 8th, 1984 we had 26 new hires and we had made 40 offers or so.  Lin explained that CFO Bob Smith had told her that by the end of the year she would be making 100 offers per week in order to keep up with the planned growth.  I was dumbfounded by the volume...Lin, being one of the most positively-competitive people I have ever known, just smiled her pretty smile and shrugged her shoulders, she knew she would meet the goal. "What else is there to do but figure it out?" she asked.

So, at 4:15 Lin, Kathleen Filano and I made our way across the campus from Bldg 2, over the pond (where an office and a Ferrari would one day float) to an open space in the Distribution area of Bldg 1.  The Ops and Facilities guys had set up tables with chips and dip and there were kegs and boxes of wine. We had the stats on new employees, product shipped and revenue collected in our hands along with a big bowl which contained a copy of every employee's badge.  People started gathering, music was playing from a boom box and I witnessed, for the first time, the quintessential Silicon Valley cultural experience.

As folks from all areas started to gather, I got my first glimpse into the subcultures of Sun:  Joe Roebuck's hail-fellow-well-met sales guys who were jolly, but also let you know that being there was taking away from revenue generation, Joe also ran Customer Support in those days with Steve Saperstein and Wild Bill Cote and his team...always the most raucous; Carol Bartz's marketing team, mostly very attractive women who seemed at first a bit standoffish, but were in reality...a bit standoffish; Russ Bik's operations folks, whose environment we had invaded with this soiree, continued to work until the absolute last second, good guys who stayed in the background; Bernie LaCroute's engineering team was there..the hardware engineers clustered around Howard Lee in animated conversation and the software engineers, clustered around Eric Schmidt in silence; Bob Smith's finance team, always the first to tap the kegs; The very small IT team, who in those days always looked a bit moist from perspiration;  The HR folks all trying to avoid whichever manager was pissed off at them about recruiting (someone was ALWAYS pissed off about recruiting).  Folks were milling about and then suddenly there was a bit of a hubub in the center of the room.  I looked up and there was 29-year-old Scott McNealy standing on a chair in the middle of the floor.  Scott had the stats Lin, Kathleen and I had gathered that afternoon and he read them off to all gathered...what we shipped, what we booked, what we collected, who we hired...the crowd roared and clapped and whooped and hollered with each new data point and Scott was grinning and joking and being adorable....and for the 50th time since I was offered the gig I thought, "This is the CEO?"  This was like nothing I had ever experienced.

Scott took questions from the super-smart attendees...product questions, quality questions, revenue questions and then the inevitable-always-last-question, "When are we going public?"  And Scooter answered with the best answer any CEO ever gave to that question, "When we need the money."  And moved on.  Then Scott reached into the bowl of badges and announced the weeks winner...with a dollar for every workstation shipped, someone had just won $125.  The crowd went crazy!

My family was waiting in the parking lot (we only had one car in those days) and as we drove home that night I tried to explain to Kem and Andy what I had just experienced.  I could not quite express what I was feeling....I had never seen a CEO disclose so much...up on a chair, with the team around him going nuts...and it seemed like it was all important...that whatever we were doing (it was only my fifth day, I still was not sure we did not make office furniture) was somehow bigger than what met the eye.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You Can Please Some of the People Some of the Time......

There is a scene in the 1950 movie "Father of the Bride" where Spenser Tracy learns that the per-head-cost for his daughter's wedding is $3.90 and has a fit of apoplexy.  He is shocked by what goes into that number: the church, the band, the food, the drink, the caterer's fees, the storage of furniture, the extra insurance, the cars, the flowers, the waiters, the tent in the backyard, the photographer......

I know how old Spense felt.

When a small group of us met to plan a reunion of former Sun employees, we were giddy with anticipation and wide-eyed with naivete.  Caught up in sentimentality we thought, "How hard can this be?"  We assumed we could order a few kegs, buy some "2-buck-Chuck", stop by Costco for chips and dip, throw McNealy up on a chair to say a few words, crank up a boom box and party on with old friends.  Clearly this was an IQ test we failed.

When the acceptances on Facebook exceeded 500 and Evite over 750 we realized that this event might be a bit more complex that originally thought.  Giddiness gave way to thoughtfulness, where were we going to put over 500 folks....with a potential of a couple of thousand showing up?

The first venue we spoke to wanted an $80,000 retainer.  We explored parks, ranches, hotels, convention centers, tech museums etc. etc.  As the potential attendance grew, so did our excitement and panic....we realized that there was no way we could use a traditional venue...a.) we could not afford to front the $$ and b.) we needed something flexible, so we could expand or contract with the final attendance #'s (we were not so naive that we believed that just because someone accepts on Facebook, that they are actually going to show up).  Finally, someone said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could do this at one of the old Sun campuses?"  Eureka!  Maybe we could hold this party in a parking lot at one of the former Sun campuses!

We quickly abandoned the idea of any cooperation from Facebook, Google or Oracle.  That left Intuit and, frankly, the groups most hoped for venue...the parking lot at 2550 Garcia Ave.   Intuit has been great.  I mean GREAT.  They are welcoming and cooperative and happy to help.  We love us some Intuit.

So, they tell us they can let us use the outside space, but not any inside space (no restrooms) so we will need to bring some porta-potties with us.  And some of the space is a sport-lot that has an expensive surface which will need to be protected.  And we will need to insure the space and indemnify all parties at $3mil, (including the planning committee) and get the permits for noise, traffic, liquor, assembly etc. etc.  Oh, and we cannot use their power or water, so we will have to bring those with us.  And we better put up some tents (secured with huge water barrels, in case it rains.....)

The next thing we did was contract a professional events management group. 

Then we started getting notes from folks who were coming from far away, we heard that people in Europe had purchased their plane tickets, so had a gaggle of folks from Boston and a bunch from Texas.  They were asking about hotel discounts etc.  And we were thinking, "Maybe chips and dip are not going to be sufficient."

Each committee member was getting dozens of requests for invitations to the event on a daily basis because we had exceeded Evite's limitations.

We reviewed the potential cost of the event and I began to have nightmares.

Assuming 1000 attendees:
  1. $80 per head for food and drink.
  2. $50 per head for equipment, protective flooring, tents and power
  3. $30 per head for insurance, entertainment, permit fees, party coordinator fees and unexpected costs
The second and third items go up on a per head basis if we have fewer than 1000 attendees.

As a team we struggled with the costs.  We had imagined something in the range of $75.  (One unhappy ex-Sun employee has excoriated me for not bringing the price in at $30 per head.)  But given the flexibility in the numbers there was no way we could get the costs down that low.

Then, when I was lamenting about this to a friend yesterday, another HR executive....she asked me, "Nance, how much do you think we spent on our Holiday Lunch at my company last December?........$115 per head for food, drink, flowers and venue.  And we did not have to supply insurance or bring our own toilets...."  And another friend from Apple tells me their recent reunion for a couple of hundred folks was priced at $120 per head...with some underwriting from Apple.

I realized then that I had forgotten something important.  The committee is just a dozen folks trying to throw a party for 500-2000 old friends.  We are not a corporation.  We do not have the embedded infrastructure of insurance policies and facilities departments and toilets at our disposal.  We are starting from scratch, trying to make an event happen that is worthy of our memories of Sun.  An event that, for many of us, will probably provide a bookend to our Sun experience.

And so, unfortunately, we have to pass on to the attendees all of the costs that Sun used to cover at these events...and while we call it a "Beer Bust" (and yes, I hope to get McNealy up on a chair to pull a "badge" out of a bowl for a raffle), in truth we are planning something a bit more upscale than chips, dip and a keg. We are planning a celebration befitting the extraordinary experience we shared working together at Sun.

If you would like to join the party register here: