"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 characters...in 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.
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:
$80 per head for food and drink.
$50 per head for equipment, protective flooring, tents and power
$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:
During the first week of January, 2014 I was asked (well, challenged actually...by the handsome and impish Alan Butler) to try to organize a reunion "Beer Bust" for the former employees of Sun Microsystems. I was apparently still groggy from the holidays and smugly wrote on my Facebook page something like "I'm in! Who's with me?"
Within a day over 200 folks had responded to my comment.
Two days later I set up a special Facebook page for the interested alumna.
Two weeks later, when it became clear we could not manage the event through FB, I sent out an Evite.
Even with the vast limitations and inconvenient invitation sharing, we hit the maximum capabilities of Evite within 5 days.
Gulp, what had I gotten myself into here?
It was clear I was going to have to take this soiree seriously. Alan and I had assembled an initial team of organizers: John Shoemaker, Greg Chabrier, Alan and I met at the bar at The Fairmont close to my home on the 10th of January (I made it convenient for me, 'cause I still thought this would be a one time committee meeting)...we drank and laughed and in the end decided we needed some folks on the team who actually knew how to do stuff. So over the course of the last six weeks we have added a cast of characters that are reflective of Sun hiring practices, smart, assertive, quirky, competent, committed (or should be committed, I am telling you I had forgotten how similar "super-smart" and "bat-shit-crazy" are). Our motley crew consists of: Mike Milligan, May Yip, Lisa Cavallero, Lin Brown, Gloria George, Rosa Cooper, Deepak Bhagat, Howared Friedenberg, David Harris, Mike Morris, Shahin Kahn and the original four from the Fairmont. You see how I conclude bat-shit-crazy now, don't you?
The party is scheduled for the 24th of May. We have over 2,000 people who have expressed interest in attending. With social media failing us as a tool to keep track of who wants to participate, we will launch a registration page today and start to collect fees from the party-goers so we can pay for this bash. Over the weekend, the team will publish the URL on every social media outlet we can. (Except for May Yip who does not participate in social media at all...so if you see her on a street corner dancing with a big arrow with a URL on it, assume that is her way of spreading the news.)
We now have weekly meetings with PowerPoint agendas and action items. We have hired a professional event planning company and selected a caterer. We are planning entertainment and memorials and walks down memory lane.
Sun was never a cult of a single personality (sorry, Scooter)...no, Sun produced many sub-cults among every discipline and function...and it appears quite a few of the leaders of those cults have signed up to attend. For those luminaries who do not show up....well, be-there-or-be-talked-about...and by "talked-about" I do mean roasted. Fair warning.
I am going to provide some of the highlights from the meetings here. Thus far we have laughed, on average, through 47 minutes of every hour we have spent together (I made that up, but that is what it feels like). If the party is one-fifth as fun as the committee meetings, this is going to be a great event.
My only fear is that we can only accommodate about 2000 people at the chosen venue. So, when you see the URL, if you want to join the fun please swipe your credit card quickly.
30 years have passed since I joined Sun in 1984...we are all a bit older...we cannot kick as high...but that is OK, 'cause the butts have sagged and are easier to reach....and we do intend to "Kick butt and have fun" on the 24th of May.
Sometimes I am asked to make comments on the world in which I live. Poor misguided souls assume that because I am older than God, I have some level of wisdom or insight or sage advice to offer about Silicon Valley or the feminine experience or entreprenuership. And while it seems like I must share that opinion of myself (after all, I do write this blog from time-to-time) the truth is I am just tap-dancing my way through life, occassionally tripping over something funny or infuriating that I feel compelled to document. I never intend for anyone to take me too seriously. And then along comes this lovely young woman who askes for an interview from me (after reading this blog) and out comes my most pompous, insufferable self...taking myself too seriously and polluting her perfectly lovely blog.
A friend asked me to repost this old piece about Founding CEO's. I am obliging because I have made the acquaintance of a slew of new young CEO's...and I am a sucker for flattery. ********************************************************************************************************* They start out with a great idea. They don’t sleep. They invest everything they have in the idea. They have no other life. They build the idea into a great opportunity. They entice investors to fund the idea. They invite their most trusted friends to join them. They cultivate customers. They share the potential of the idea. They nurture the idea into a budding brand. They start to generate revenue based on their idea. They can see the break-even moment. They know how they will invest the profits in new ideas. They can smell the IPO or the world dominance of their idea.
And then one afternoon, after an executive session of their Board, they are told that it is time to bring in “experienced, professional management.”
And suddenly the “Founder and CEO” has only “Founder” on their business card.
And they wonder WTF?
They did so much so right…what could they possibly have done wrong?
It is hard to ride the wave of success if you are a Founding CEO. Not many do so. And those that do stay upright have a lot of help.
Those that end up in the surf of superfluous staff positions, in their own companies, usually have wiped-out based on one or more of the following reasons. Easy to avoid…but hard to see when you are trying to ride the wave.
1.Not hiring well enough. Hiring their sister in-law, college roommate and two favorite lab partners is fine at the very beginning, but not upgrading the team is a fatal flaw. It is a serious red flag to investors that the Founding CEO has limitations if they cannot or will not attract real talent to the enterprise.
2.Not trusting those they hire. Bringing in the much-needed talent and then not using it is another red flag. If a Founding CEO is still making every decision and never schedules their team present to the Board, watch out. The Board will figure out that the Founder CEO has security issues or control needs that will eventually be a gate-to-growth.
3.Not expanding their skills beyond pitching their idea. It was their primary skill set for so long that it is hard to determine when it has become obsolete. But, if the only thing the Founder CEO can do is pitch their initial idea it is another gate. It may take a while for the Board to realize that the Founder CEO is a one-note-samba, but they will.
4.Not managing the basics. Compared to the heady first phase of a company, it can be boring in the second stage of growth when on a day-to-day basis you have to show up and manage cash, stick to product schedules, understand costs, hire and train people, find customers, serve customers and communicate with the Board. But it must be done. A Founder CEO who does not master these basics will not hold on to the CEO part of their title for long.
5.Not stretching their comfort zone. Don’t confuse culture with comfort. Founder CEO’s who define the culture of their company, as the method by which they are most comfortable doing business, will fail to build a sustainable model. Comfort and success have very little in common. If the Founding CEO is not outside of their comfort-zone every day they are not competing for their own job.
6.Not outsourcing. Thinking you can do it all, invent it better than everyone else and subscribing to the “not invented here” mentality, is hubris that wastes money and time. Building partnerships is one of the most commonly requested skills in the specifications for the “experienced, professional management” that replaces Founding CEO’s.
7.Not managing the BOD. If you do not talk to them, they will talk about you. And they will talk about you without all the facts. The investors can intimidate founding CEO’s. Being intimidated is a serious mistake. You are accountable to the BOD, but you have to ask as much of your BOD as they ask of you. No board meeting should end without the CEO placing that quarter’s demands on the BOD. And a good CEO follows up all quarter, working with the BOD members and encouraging them to invest more than money. A good relationship with the BOD offers many currencies to a company. A good BOD can offer introductions, talent, partnerships, competitive insight, financial modeling, operational advice etc. And a good CEO takes advantage of the offerings and builds the BOD’s investment in time, attention and loyalty. It is hard to vote to fire a guy who regularly solicits and follows your advice.
All of these are avoidable pit-falls and it is easy to see who is going to wipe out and end up a Founder without portfolio in their own company.
When I was in high school there was a boy in class who was a natural born leader. Dave Fares was one of those teenage kids who was fun and mischievious and cool, but also seemed to have a bit of an older soul. You remember those kids, the ones that seemed to already know that something bigger was waiting for them, but enjoyed the present for what it was. So Dave was a class officer....he was king of this dance and that event and generally always ended up as a role model for young leadership.
Dave went on to be an attorney, eventually practicing mediation over litigation in family disputes. It seemed to me to be the perfect fit for the thoughtful person I remembered.
Recently, thanks to social media, I am back in touch with Dave. And what he is doing today takes me full circle. It seems my old friend is now teaching people how to be leaders. That seems right.