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.


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?


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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 11



Let's spend some time with David Lietzke.

I love David.  David is smart and he is an exceptional friend.  Also, David taught me how to do what I do, don't ask me what that is, but David taught me to do it.  David is first a business guy and then an HR person.  I owe him so much I cannot begin to describe it or thank him.  So, mostly I tease and torture him.  

The day I realized David always left his keys in his car was the day my friend, May Yip and I started the diabolical plan to move his car everyday...not far, just a couple of spaces from where he'd left it.  

This went on for months.  We would stand in the windows of our offices and watch as David went out to get into his car at the end of the day.  He would head to where he parked it and then stand there puzzled for a second or two, see the car a couple of parking places from where he expected it to be; or parked directly behind where he had left it, scratch his head and then get in and drive away.  It was like the movie "Gaslight", we were slowly driving him insane.  

One day we replaced his Jimmy Buffet tape with Mozart. He apparently got out on Rt 85 and with the windows down and the volume already cranked up, turned on his Buffet tape...only to find "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic" blaring...and almost ran off the road.  Then we left a photo of his Buffet tape, wrapped in barb wire, on his front seat with a ransom demand.  All good fun and I thought that one day he would figure it was us and we would pay the price.  But, what I had not counted on was that David never dreamed it was us....he had another friend named Kirby, who was also something of a practical joker.  Turns out, David thought Kirby was behind the car torture.  So, David starting torturing Kirby with his own assortment of tricks and treachery.  The two of them went at it for quite a while, escalating the pranks.  

May and I just watched and commiserated with David and didn't tell him that we had started the snowball rolling down the hill until his last day at Sun, at which point we also opened the sun-roof on his car, closed and locked the doors  threw the keys in through the sun-roof and proceeded to filled the car up entirely with styro-foam pellets we had stolen from the distribution warehouse  That will teach you, David...girls can be fun too!

After I returned from a vacation one Monday, David slipped into my office with a silly grin on his face.  David has big dimples and seeing him grin is just such a treat.  He wanted to tell me about something Bob Lux had done.  Bob Lux ran Customer Service for Sun at this point.  Another DEC hire.  We did not know him very well yet.  But he had the reputation as something of a loose cannon.  A "player."   I was his HR manager at the time (1986) and David had attended Lux's staff meeting in my place while I was out of town.

With me out of the room and David in my place, Bob had an entirely male staff meeting and he decided to cut loose a bit.  Bob opened his staff meeting by telling his team the story of the famous "Newly Wed Game" incident where Bob Eubanks asks the young-marrieds to name the most unusual place they had ever had sex.  The first young husband, a rather over-weight, sweaty guy in a too-small-suit replied, "Well, that would be the butt, Bob!"

David told me the story.  We both laughed a bit, tried to figure out if any harm had been done by the telling of the story and didn't see any (please do not send me angry notes if you see some harm....it was a long time ago...and it was funny....).  Based on that incident, we started to call Bob Lux, "That-would-be-the-butt-Bob-Lux"  in our HR staff meetings (as one of my colleagues once said, "in an HR meeting anything goes, we are a self-cleaning oven").  Within a month or so "That-would-be-the-butt-Bob-Lux" was the only name we used to refer to Lux.  

Some time later, David again came into my office, this time....no dimples showing.  David was the HR Director for Bernie LaCroute.  Bernie ran Engineering, Marketing, Operations, Customer Service....etc etc....he ran everything except Sales, Finance and HR. If Scott McNealy was God at Sun....Bernie was the Holy Ghost...he made things happen.  Well, David had been in Bernie's weekly staff meeting and somehow, without thinking, he accidentally referred to the head of Customer Service, a Vice President of a publicly held company and a direct report of Bernie's as,  "That-would-be-the-butt-Bob-Lux."  There was dead silence in the room, according to David, "What was that?" asked Bernie.  David covered somehow.  But he was mortified.  And he knew Bernie was not amused at all.  He was certain that Bob Lux was offended and pissed and probably in complaining about David to Crawford at that very moment.  David was telling me all of this, shaking his head, blaming me for being such a smart-ass-ring-leader and lecturing me that we had to...HAD to...take this all more seriously.  Just at that point Bob Lux stuck his head in the office door....beaming....."Nancy!' he yelled..."I want new business cards and I want them RIGHT NOW!  They are to say,  'That-would-be-the-butt-Bob-Lux' Vice President of Customer Delight."  He continued,  "This is the best HR team I have ever worked with.  At DEC they had no sense of humor!"  And off he went.  David and I just stared at each other and then burst out laughing.  

It was David that taught me that no one should ever know you are an HR person when you are in a staff meeting.  You need to be able to contribute to all areas of the business and not just raise your head when "people" issues are on the table.  It was David that first suggested that my humor and creativity might be assets in my work.  David forgave me for not having a Masters in OD and let me do the strategic work anyway.  David made me stand at his white board every couple of months and show him how I would redesign the group I was supporting to make it more effective.  David let me know that personal integrity was far more important in a business than "process integrity."  David showed me that objectivity can be used as a cover for cowardice and that loyalty is still a virtue.  And, David had fun every day....he was not one of those lamenting, whining, woe-is me-these-managers-are-all-so-stupid HR types. He is not chicken-little running around in high dudgeon all the time, creating more drama than value.  I owe this guy a lot.

We have remained friends.  When he left Sun and joined another company as VP of HR I stopped in to see him in his new office.  He did not expect me.  I approached the receptionist at his new company and asked to see him.  "Is he expecting you?" she asked. "Well, no, but I am Margaret Bedwetter, his parole officer, and he has missed his last two appointments...I need to see him NOW!" I replied.  She dialed David and said into the phone, "There is a Margaret Bedwetter here Mr Lietzke, she says she is your parole officer." And David, unfazed, replied, "Is she a very short woman.....?" 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 8

Better to be quarrelling than to be lonesome.  Irish Proverb

Scott McNealy took me to lunch three times during my ten-year career at Sun.  Each time it was to ask me to be a team player and remain in WWOP's.  I was not kidding when I said no one else wanted this gig.

In September of 1989, Scott's admin, Karen called and asked if I would have lunch with Scott in the coming week.  I knew what was up.  Bob Garrow had left Sun the previous month and the new guy was to start in another month or so.  

Someone from Ed Zander's team had called me and asked if I would like to come over to Ed's shop and take a stab at keeping Ed out of trouble.  I was flattered beyond belief and giddy at the prospect of a change of scenery.   But McNealy and I went to Scott's Seafood Restaurant across from Mings and Scott made the pitch.  The new guy was going to need an HR person who knew the team.  The new guy was a savvy HR user.  The new guy needed my help.  Scott is good.  I had so wanted to move out of WWOP's, but it was not to be.  And so,  I was dragged, kicking and screaming into the best two years of my career.

I heard the rumors about Kevin Melia even before Scott and I had lunch.  He was from Digital Equipment.  He was Irish by birth.  He now lived in Boston.  His nickname at DEC was "the Jesuit."  He was the youngest ever Vice President at DEC.  He had run World Wide Materials there and was considered brilliant and tough (not another tough guy!).

Kevin and I met for the first time in a conference room in Milpitas, CA on October 17th, 1989 at 5:00pm. 

At four minutes after 5  the room started to shake a bit.
I made a joke, "Oh, Kevin, we seem to be having a little earthquake to welcome you to California!"
Ceiling tiles started to fall.
"Kevin, I have to ask you to do something I do not usually ask my boss the first time we meet.  Will you get under the table with me?"
"What?" he asked.  Who could blame him.
"Big earthquake, Kevin...GET UNDER THE TABLE!"
He did.  For 15 seconds.  Then he said, "Let's get out of here!"  And we did.
As we stood in the parking lot of that building in Milpitas we watched a couple of hundred people bolting from the surrounding Sun buildings.
All the car alarms were going off.
All the hazardous chemical spill alarms were going off.
People were yelling that the Bay Bridge had fallen down, that 280 had collapsed...that Candlestick park was in ruins.
It was pandamonium.
And Kevin turned to me, pointed to his watch and asked, "Do the employees always leave this early?"

Kevin moved to CA a month later and started his new job officially the same week as Sun was throwing a party for everyone celebrating their 5th anniversary with the company.  Having joined in October of 1984, it was my 5 year party.  The afternoon gala was held at a psuedo-castle in the east bay.  The theme was a Medieval Faire.  Jugglers, Puppeteers, Knights, Damsels etc, etc.  Sun did these parties well.  Scooter saw me across the tent that was set up for lunch and motioned for me to come over.  He was standing next to Kevin Melia.

When I walked over, Scott took me aside and said, "Look, I invited Kevin... it is his third day here.  I am going to be busy with some presentations and things, so will you entertain him, please?"  I looked longingly at all my friends having a purely social event, and then told McNealy that of course I would attend to Kevin.

I found a table of WWOP's folks and Kevin and I sat down.  The lunch was typical Medieval Faire eat-with-your-hands-things, Cornish game hens, roasted root vegetables, rolls.  The minute I saw it I knew what was coming and sure enough, Scott moved to a podium to speak and suddenly a cornish game hen was flying through the air at him.  Then a roll, then a potato and the next thing you knew there was a full on food-fight underway.  100+ Sun employees with eat-with-your-hands food...who were they kidding....a food fight was the only thing that was a certainty at that party.  One of the manufacturing engineers was showing me how to get the greatest velocity out of a roasted carrot (you grab it by the pointy end and flip it), when I noticed Kevin was missing.  I was puzzled for a moment and then I realized where he must be.  I picked up my plate and joined him under the table.  And there we were again, on our second meeting, taking shelter under a table.   Kevin was grinning.  "Reminds me of the early days at DEC....great energy!" he said...and he continued to eat.  Unfazed.  And I thought....Hmmm.

When Kevin is 15 years older than he is today, he will look quite a bit like Richard Harris (the original Albus Dumbledore).  When I met him 20+ years ago he already looked a lot like him.   Kevin was an avid runner (marathoner) with a BMI in the negative numbers.  His hair was thinning, unruly, dark red/brown and I speculate that he never looked in a mirror when he combed it.  He a fabulous listener.  He is thoughtful.  He is wise.  He is a fascinating combination of high energy and stillness that seems to be one of the interesting paradoxes of those raised in Ireland, as he would say "In the shadow of a world power." 

Kevin had lived in the USA for about 13 years when I met him; he had become a citizen of his adopted home, but his brogue was still thick and charming as hell (and still is).  Several weeks after he joined Sun we held a meeting for the 100 or so most senior folks in WWOP's.  Part of the agenda was getting to know Kevin a bit better.  He prepared a piece on his values and how he worked.  It was a great list of his expectations; stuff like:  Keeping commitments, speaking out, avoiding politics, not chasing ghosts (the past), teamwork, focus on the mission etc.  I thought he did splendidly.  Of course, I was spending a lot of time with Kevin, I had heard his list and I was pretty used to the brogue.  The other 99 folks were not.

Within 5 minutes of the meeting breaking up I started to get the questions.
"What does Kevin mean when he says he doesn't chase goats?"
"Not goats, ghosts."
"So, if Kevin doesn't chase goats, does he chase other farm animals?"
"Not goats, ghosts."
"Are goats some hated animal in Ireland, is there a reason he hates them?"
"Not goats, ghosts."
"I do not know why Mr. Melia felt he had to single out goats for his wrath."
"Not goats, ghosts."
"If Melia is a vegetarian, he should just say so."
"Not goats, ghosts."
"I am insulted by Mr Melia's disparaging statements about the Greek people.  We eat goats."
"Not goats, ghosts."
"What the hell does 'not chasing ghosts' mean?"
"Not ghosts, goats....I mean.....never mind."
I give up.

Kevin has what is considered a Dublin brogue.  He pronounces "th" like "t" and the g sound is always missing from the "ing",  so it is not thinking, it is "tinkin."  When driving home accountability, he would often ask his team in meetings "Who's wakin up in t' night, tinkin about tis?"  You have to listen and pay attention or you could seriously misunderstand him.  One time, as we were coming through the lobby doors together, Kevin asked me to follow him to his office on the 5th floor of Pal 1.  I headed for the elevator and he for the stairs, he gave me a scowl signaling that I was expected to walk with him up the stairs.  Did I mention that he was a marathoner?  Did I mention that I was and am 5ft tall and chubby?  But, up we went with Kevin talking all the way.  He was very animated about some issue that had happened over the weekend.  "We must be more turrow!" he kept saying.  I was listening, trying to avoid speaking, as I was at the point where I could climb and breathe, or climb and talk, or breathe and talk, but I could not climb and talk and breathe.  I thought that oxygen deprivation was impeding my comprehension skills because I could not for the life of me figure out what he was talking about.  "Turrow?"  What is turrow? I couldn't concentrate on anything else he was saying...what is "turrow?"   I felt like Booger in Revenge of the Nerds, "What the fuck's a frush?"

We reached the 5th floor just as spots appeared before my eyes and I was leaning against the wall, gasping and yawning and trying to re-oxygenate before either my heart or brain decided to give up the ghost (not goats, ghost!).  Kevin left me there and was 3/4 down the hall when all the tumblers fell into place.  "Oh!  THOROUGH!"  I called after him.  "We have to be more thorough!"  He looked back at me puzzled but grinning.

Twelve years before 9/11/01 the word "terrorist" did not have the same connotations as it has today.  Well, at least it did not have those connotations in the US.  Kevin was affectionately referred to as "the Irish terrorist" for his unrelenting refrain that "the plan is the plan."  Kevin occasionally appeared to be channeling Yoda with his there-is-no-try-there-is do-or-not-do belief system.  He was like the freakin' Jedi master of the supply/demand equation.   He had enormous patience for the process of exchanging ideas and he could listen to a raging argument go on for a quite awhile and then raise both his hands and ask, "Does anyone have a fact?  Any fact at all?"  I can picture so vividly John Shoemaker, Mel Friedman, Jim Bean, Dave Weishaar, Bob Coe or Bob Graham shaking their heads as they came out of Kevin's office.  He simply could not be reasoned with when it came to missing commitments or not performing to plan.

Kevin loaned me a book shortly after he joined Sun.  I read, and then bought copies for all senior managers in WWOPS of, "The Age of Unreason" by Charles Handy.   The title is inspired by the following: 

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists" Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 - 1950)
By the end of Kevin's first year at Sun, WWOPS had moved $1billion from poorly planned finished goods inventory sitting in cages to cash on the balance sheet, just by improving our planning capabilities and sticking to the plan.  We all learned a lot, but I think I learned the most.  Kevin posed the greatest challenges, expected the most, engaged in the longest strategic view.  He managed from both his intellect and his heart.  Kevin is THE MOST competitive person I have ever met and there was no such thing as failing when you were around him.  There was no try, there was no not do, there was only do.

Kevin and I became friends.  We have socialized and visited each others homes over the years. I owe him so much and love him very dearly.

That was the first year of the best two years of my career....the second year was coming and it involved someone who I was not just intimidated by, but honestly afraid to even speak to.  I was about to  report to Bill Raduchel.

2019:  We lost Kevin 5 years ago.  I mourn him daily.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

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

No, no, no, no, no....you are not supposed to take me seriously!

"Group: Sun Microsystems HR Alumni Group
Subject: New comment (1) on "Sex and the Start-up"
As an HR Professional for 20+ years and a Sun Alum... I find your article inappropriate for the forum. While our paths never crossed, I am not sure what can be gained by "dishing" at this point. Just my two cents."

Doesn't it just figure this came from an HR wonk? 

1.  I really hope I am not offending folks...my stories are told with love...but to be honest, anyone who tries to add credibility to a point-of-view by telling me how many years they have been "an HR Professional" .....lost me.  I've met way to many HR Professionals for that to have any merit....hell, I am an HR Professional and I have zero credibility.

2.  Inappropriate is the goal...this is an Irish Wake for a beloved institution, for pity's sake.

3.  "Dishing"?  Did you say, "dishing?"   I never dish.  I validate perceptions, perhaps.  But I do not dish....well, unless it might be good for a laugh.......

4.  Eat a bug.

Back to the wake and some more inappropriate dishing tomorrow. And for those who have been sending me ideas and memories...thanks....this memorial may go on for awhile. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 7

Bob Garrow.   

It is hard to explain how much I love this guy....or why.... 

Bob joined Sun in 1985 or 1986.  I heard a lot about him through the grapevine.  He was a very successful Silicon Valley executive (one of the founders of Convergent Technologies), too young to retire but just enough older than the rest of the management team to be considered a bit of a gray-hair.  His reputation was that he was a great engineering executive.  He was rumored to be tough, smart, tough, tough, unreasonable, tough, unrelenting, tough, impatient, tough and tough.

Operations reported to Bob, up through Jim Bean (Jim's turn in this blog is coming soon).  I stayed out of Bob's way; the truth is I was pretty intimidated.  I could hold my own with smart.  I could even deal with tough...it was the unreasonable, impatient and unrelenting that worried me.  He seemed to be impervious to charm.  I am mostly about charm (let's face it, I am unencumbered by any real skills, knowledge or abilities), so I avoided Bob.  I was pretty successful at avoidance for about 2 years.  David Lietzke and Vicky Farrow worked with Bob and I pretty much went my merry way in Ops.  Then one day it was announced that with the internationalization of Ops to World Wide Operations, Bob was giving up Engineering and focusing on leading WWOP's.  WWOP's would be broken into two big groups (workstations and servers), Bean would lead workstations and we eventually hired Mel Friedman to run servers under Bob.  I would now report directly to Bob Garrow.  Avoiding him would probably not be that easy now.

I was a little premature in my assumption that I couldn't avoid Bob.  One of the first things he did as the head of WWOP's was announce that he was looking for a Director of HR for WWOP's.  Wait, what was that?  I was the Senior Manager of HR for OP's....how was this not my job?  He was recruiting for my job?  What the hell was going on here? 

David Lietzke intervened and Bob decided to give me a couple of months to prove myself.  That avoidance thing had not been so wise it turned out.  Bob knew nothing about me. The 60 days passed and Bob approved me as the HR person, but he was reluctant, he just did not know enough about me.

The first week I reported to Bob, I was desperate to figure out a way to connect with him.  I was in my office in Milpitas around 6 pm when one of my direct reports, a young man named Mark, came in pretty upset.  It seemed Bob Garrow had just tried to run him down with his Porsche.  Actually, given his rep, Bob trying to run someone down did not surprise me that much...
"Which parking lot were you in?"  I asked.  
"What parking lot?" Mark replied.  "I was in my office!"
"Bob tried to run you down in your office?"
"Yes, he just drove through the window of my office and almost killed me at my desk!"
 Bob was a cigar smoker back in the day and his routine was to stop outside his beloved Porsche, reach in and start the car while it was in neutral and light his cigar before getting inside the car.
This time the car was not in neutral.  
The Porsche leapt forward, jumping the 3 feet of lawn and the bushes and crashed through the window of Mark's office.
Mark described himself, seeing the sports car coming at him at the last minute,  back-pedaling his chair against the far wall of his small cubicle to avoid being hit. 
After making certain Mark was ok, I realized what Bob and I would bond over.
I sent Bob an email that evening.  I explained to him that I fully understood his lack of regard for HR types, but running over them inside the building seemed extreme.
Bob's response showed the appropriate concern for Mark and a serious concern that I would never let him live it down....seems Bob did know me pretty well after all.

Very soon after my promotion to the director level in 1988, the annual VP and Director off-site was held in Monterey CA.  It was the first of these, soon to be legendary, events and it was being run on a modest budget.  The agenda was good, lots of strategy and good discussions about where Sun was going.  But rather than the expensive entertainment that came later, the plan was that each function would provide entertainment to their colleagues the first evening of the meeting.  We were asked to participate in a lip-sync contest.  Bob, perhaps to get back at me for the unrelenting grief over the Porshe-through-the cubicle incident, told me I was in charge of the WWOP's linc-sync.  Oy vey.  I looked around at the team...what was I going to do with this motley crew:  Jim Bean, Bob Coe, Mel Freidman, Linc Holland, Erwin Lenowitz, Jim Griffin and about 8 other rhythm-impaired-white-boys who had little to no interest in participating.

The rumor was that the other groups were taking this pretty seriously.  The software group, famous for the April Fool's day practical jokes were practicing a couple of evenings a week.  The east coast division had a 45 page set of instructions for their team and Barry James Folsom was personally directing them.  Marketing, a very creative group was working on it and Sales thought they had a lock.  I was pretty stumped.  

I called an old friend, a director-choreographer, told him what I had to work with and what we needed to accomplish,  He and I decided...go for simple, go for funny.  I got half the WWOP's guys to show up for one brief rehearsal.

The night of the competition, Jim Griffin (the pooping in the desk guy) was a delightful, lip-syncing lead to "Leader of the Pack", everyone else was a back-up singer.  All of the other macho-WWOP's guys were bedecked with foam-core-cut-out dresses.  And, at the appropriate moment, our leader, Bob Garrow appeared as the doomed teenage love interest, on a foam-core motocycle, leather jacket with foam-core angel wings...and his cigar.....and what do you know, we won.  Bob was thrilled.  I moved a step closer to respect from Bob.  Thank you, God.  (By the way, the stories about the sales guys starting fistfights in the bar that night and havoc wrecked in the hotel are very, very overstated...just ask Roy T-S.)

Bob's administrative assistant was a lovely young woman who we will call Gail.  Gail had an unfortunate love affair and a beautiful baby.  When Gail was still on her maternity leave she dropped in to show off the baby...a gorgeous little girl about 4 weeks old.   When she appeared, Bob admired the baby for a minute or two and then asked Gail if she could help him find some file that he really needed.  "Sure," she said.  "Can you watch the baby for a minute?"  Bob explained that we were on our way into his weekly staff meeting, but yes, he reluctantly agreed to take the baby in her carrier into the meeting while Gail helped with this small administrative task.

As soon as Bob got into the conference room, he took the baby from her carrier and held that tiny little girl on his shoulder.  And there she stayed for the next 90 minutes.  At one point he let Bob Coe hold the baby for a bit...but only for a bit...seems old-intimidating-Garrow has a serious weak spot for babies.  And, I believe to this day that he sent Gail on a wild-goose-chase so he could hold that sweet-smelling little bundle for an hour or two.

At the end of the meeting, as we were leaving the conference room, Bob turned to me and said, "Nance, did you notice how well-behaved everyone was in this meeting today?  We should have a baby in all of our staff meetings.  They make us better people.  See if you can arrange that, ok?"  
"You want me to arrange to have an infant in our staff meetings?" I asked, "Don't you think Scott Metcalf has that role covered for us already?"
"Well, yes he has the behaviors, but when I try to hold him on my shoulder my arm goes to sleep." replied my now-not-intimidating-at-all boss.
Who can resist a man who loves babies?

Scott McNealy's direct reports were referred to as the Executive Management Group (EMG).  Each year they had to produce a goal set that fit a formula, X number of quality goals, X number of performance goals, X number of people goals etc. etc.  As part of Bob's team, I was participating in the creation of the WWOP's goal set.  These goals would be rolled-out not only to the rest of the EMG, but to all the WWOP's employees.  As we sat there trying to configure the right mix and priority of goals, Bob was very concerned not only in the goal content, but in the relative positioning of the goals on the list.  He believed that the order signaled priorities.  After pondering the list for a long moment, Bob turned to the group and said, "I think we better move those people goals higher on the list and make them think we give a shit."  Could any statement resonate more in the heart of an HR type?  I told you, this guy is irresistible.

Our performance review process was pretty ad hoc at Sun.  Bob was an engineer by education and he liked data, so he used a point system.  The problem was he held the criteria and point values in his head until your review.  So my first review went something like this:
"Ok, you earned about an 87 for project A." Bob started out.
"How many points could I have earned for A?"  I asked.
"Oh, I don't know.  It was probably worth 95.  And, I think you got 105 for project B."
"How many could I have earned?"
"Probably 100, but you did a great job so I am giving you extra points. And you get 60 for project C.
"But we canceled project C!"
"Yes, but that is no excuse for not finishing it.  And 100 for project D."
"Project D?  I don't remember project D, I never had project D."
"Well, I was hoping it would occur to you that we needed project D.  It was worth 200 points. So, lets add this up..... you got 353 out of a possible 500.  Wow, Nancy, not so good."
"What?", I sputtered, "are you kidding, Bob, this is totally arbitrary!"
"What do you mean arbitrary?" Bob asked, "Nancy, the score is the score, I didn't make these numbers up!"
"Yes, yes you did" I argued, "I just sat here and watched you make them up!"
"This is why you could never be an engineer," said my boss-soon-to-be-my-friend, "you just do not respect the numbers."

Bob was the best of sports, it turned out.  He let me dress him up in tights and a cape once for a WWOP's meeting.  I am sure I had a reason, other than to get him back for the arbitrary performance review numbers, but honest to God at this point all I remember is my delight when he came running out from behind the cafeteria in Milpitas dressed as "Sun Man" or "Rocket Man" or some such nonsense....tights, cape, face mask, with his glasses on over the mask.  I will give him 510 points out of a possible 700 for the performance.

Bob taught me many things.  Rigor of thinking. Discipline. And how to be professional and human simultaneously.  He also taught me about money and how to value my contribution to the mix.

Bob and I have remained somewhat in touch all these years.  I don't know many men who are as devoted to their families and who are such good and faithful friends.  His son's have given him granddaughters so he has had a lot of baby-girl-on-the-shoulder time over the years.  I will always be grateful to Sun for introducing me to "Rocket Robert" Garrow.

I am thinking about Joe Roebuck....cannot wait to see what I write about him....

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 6

When I use a word - it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.
- Humpty Dumpty, Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll 

 I was promoted to the director level at Sun because I learned to drop the F-Bomb.  I am not kidding, exaggerating or using hyperbole.  (WARNING:  I am going to use the real word from here on out, so if you are sensitive to such language....change channels now, ok?)

I had been passed over for promotion in 1987 with some very vague feedback, you know...something about my limited skill level, my business acumen, my smart-ass demeanor, my inability to build a positive relationship with Bob Coe...I think someone even criticized the way I opened the mail.  I was disappointed, but truth be told, I knew I wasn't ready.

Early in 1988 I was passed over again.  I was prepared to be philosophical, but wait...one of the folks who was promoted was an absolute empty suit...a colleague who, as far as I could tell had not accomplished a single thing during their career at Sun.  I sat in Crawford Beveridge's Senior HR Staff meetings with this person every week and I had yet to hear them offer an idea, a solution or an insight.  What I did hear was the word "fuck."  Every week this cat complained that something was "fucked up" or a "fucking mess" or "the last fucking time I will deal with this" etc. etc. etc.

It dawned on me that this person, this room-temperature IQ, was taken more seriously than I was because they said "fuck."  Hmmm.

I was 34 years old and about to say fuck for the first time in my life. I am the original good Catholic girl who did not use curse words or vulgar language, so this was not going to be easy.   I practiced for a few weeks.  Each day as I drove to or from Milpitas I would try to work fuck into my vernacular.  Fuck was a second language to me and like all non-native speakers I was awkward at first, my syntax was not polished.  Fuck did not roll off my tongue easily.  I had some seriously flawed initial attempts:

"Good morning fuck, Jim"
"Never mind..."

"Did you fuck get those resume's, Linc?"
"Never mind..."

"I am working from Pal fuck 1 today,  Bob"
"Never mind..."

And then, one day, in the Senior HR Team meeting someone took a shot at Op's.  Someone made a thoughtless remark about my direct-labor-peeps and I lost it.  I went on a bit of a rant and all that practice paid off.  Fuck was my friend.  I used it as a verb, a noun, a pronoun, an adverb, an adjective,  a preposition, a conjunction and an interjection.  It was a thing of beauty.  I was on fire.  And, when I finally started to calm down a bit...shocked by what I had said, panting a little, I turned to Crawford and asked....."How many more times do I have to say fuck to get promoted?"

I was promoted a month later.

The official language of Sun was fuck.  You had to speak it in order to be heard, noticed or taken seriously.

Six weeks after meeting Kevin Melia (he will have a turn here soon as well), he did something that totally baffled me.  We had been using our best manners up until that point, but without thinking..."What the fuck was that?" I asked.  "Oh, are we going to say fuck? Good!" he replied.  And our conversations were never as stiff or formal again.  We bonded over the F-word (and a habit of diving under tables together, but more on that another day).

I am not proud of my ability to speak fuck.  Well, maybe I am a little proud, my personal best is dropping the F-bomb 23 times in 45 seconds.  I was making a passionate point to a Millennial at Ruckus, 20 years after my first awkward beginnings with this most useful of words.

Since moving to the south and having grandchildren I have been trying to clean up my language...the right thing to do, but it moves me a bit further from the Sun culture, which I loved and miss.  Fuck!

More soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 5

"A quiet personality sure isn't what you need to attract attention." Bill Budge

We had some "personalities" at Sun.

Ian Bell.  Just the name makes me smile.  When I met Ian he was running Operations (Manufacturing etal) for Sun in Westford, MA.  A Scotsman, from Dundee, we had hired Ian from Digital Equipment Corporation where he was one of the architects of their legendary team-run plant in Enfield, Conn.   Ian was in his early 50's.  A former footballer, something of a cult hero in Scotland.  About 5'4" tall...and built like a fireplug.  He reminded me of James Cagney.  Ian was a personality.

Ian never called me anything but, "MS Hauge."  At first I assumed it was because his wife's name was also Nancy...but no, the way he emphasized the "MS" soon taught me that he just was not that fond of women in business.  Ian would say to me, "You American woman do not get it.  In Scotland a married woman is the most liberated person in society.  She has her husband's money and all the free time she wants!  You girls over here in the states are mad."  Ok, so now I knew where he stood on the gender thing.  

During the time we worked together, Ian had jobs in Westford, MA; Linlithgow, Scotland and Hong Kong.  As I remember it, Nancy Bell never gave up her home in Connecticut, so the Bell's were "expats" in all of these places.  "Nancy enjoys living the life of the colonists wife," Ian was fond of saying.  Ian was even an "expat" in Westford.  He commuted home to Connecticut on weekends; staying in a hotel Monday through Thursday nights.  

Ian was surrounded by a cast of characters in Westford that I will never do justice in describing.  Talented, hardworking, quirky guys that fell under Ian's considerable spell.  They ran the assembly and test, materials, distribution, finance and manufacturing engineering functions supporting the products designed on the east coast.  Their weekly staff meeting was at 7am Friday morning.  Being late was unacceptable.  You were never late to Ian's staff meeting. Ian was unrelenting in his ridicule of you if you were late.  There were sanctions.  I think he gave you a wedgie or something.

Ian was fond of pub-crawls (as I learned the hard way one time in Scotland...more later). And it was not unusual for a Thursday night pub-crawl to go on to the wee hours....making the Friday 7am meeting an effort of Herculean proportions for some.  There was a story that one Thursday night Ian and the boys were out "crawling" and realized that it was too late for Red-Eye (who had a 75 minute commute, and no I do not know why Dave A was called Red-Eye) to go home and still get back for the meeting.  It was agreed Red-Eye would sleep in the other bed in Ian's hotel room.  They fell into their beds at 4:00am...for 2 hours of sleep.  They had to be up at 6 to make it to the 7am meeting.  Ian's last words to Red-Eye that night were, "Do not let us oversleep, Red-Eye, if you are going to stay here, YOU are responsible for getting us up!"  The alarm was set for 6.  Red-Eye awoke every 10 minutes for awhile worried that they might oversleep...but after a bit, alcohol and fatigue got the better of him and he drifted off.  

As Red-Eye told it, the next morning he was first conscious of being pummeled with a rolled up copy of the USA Today.  Ian was beating him and screaming at him to WAKE UP!  It was 6:50am.  The alarm had failed.  Ian had never been late to his own meeting.  They had 10 minutes to get to the plant.  Ian started throwing Red-Eye's clothes at him, including his shoes.  Ian and Red-Eye left the hotel room in their shorts, carrying their clothes,  Red-Eye drove while Ian dressed in the car and then they did a chinese-fire-drill at a stop sign and Ian drove while Red-Eye dressed (and this was in Ian's beloved Jaguar, oh, to have seen it)....all the while, Ian would reach over and slap poor Red-Eye on the head every 15 seconds or so calling him every foul name he could think of. 

They careened into the parking lot, Ian jumped out, yelling to Red-Eye to park the car.  When Red-Eye breathlessly made it into the conference room for the meeting it was 7:03am  Ian was sitting with the rest of the guys, looking remarkably calm and refreshed.  He proceeded to act like he had no idea why Red-Eye was late and belittled him for the rest of the meeting.

We opened the Linlithgow plant in '88 or '89  and Ian was the first Managing Director of Scotland for Sun.  It was at this point that he and I became colleagues on the World Wide Operations Staff.  We reported to Bob Garrow.   As I mentioned earlier, I was not flavor of the month with Ian.  He thought American women in business were brash, mouthy, obnoxious busybodies...and those were the good points.  Ian had no problem with women in the workplace, so long as they were tall, blond, pretty and kept their mouths shut.  Now, I am not and have never been a shrill-feminista...I was raised with four brothers, I learned early on that I could learn to play third-base or I could be third base, but I couldn't whine about not being chosen for the team if I didn't have the skills.  And, I am short and chubby and not the kind of woman Ian was attracted to for any reason.  So, he couldn't exactly hate me.  But he sure didn't like me.  He mostly ignored and/or ridiculed me.  (That was ok, I knew how to deal with that...that is exactly how my brothers treat me!)  At least that was how he treated me until our first pub crawl.

I am a three-beer girl (drink one, spill one, leave one).  A pub crawl with the Scotland boys, led by Mr Bell was daunting.  But, I try to be a good sport.  We set off through the streets of Edinburgh.  I drank a pint at the first bar.  I sipped a beer at the second bar.  By the 5th bar I was ordering bottled water and had totally lost any hope of gaining the respect of the Scotland team.  I was the worst of American women to them....didn't stay home as I should, short and squat and a wuss in the pubs.  I was pretty bummed.  But I had noticed the most lovely of things during my time sitting at the bars being ignored or scoffed at.  In Scottish pubs there is always a chalkboard above the bartenders head.  It has two names and an order on it...Hugh/Collin 1 pint.
I asked one of the bartenders (at this point the only person who would talk to me) what it meant. "Ah, if a fellow comes in looking for his buddy and the buddy is not here, the fellow buys him a pint anyway and I make sure his buddy gets it next time he comes in."  Hmmm.

The next afternoon I left the plant early and headed back to Edinburgh where I spent the afternoon on my own pub-crawl.  I hit about 10 pubs.  The next morning I flew back to the states.

Four weeks later, Ian Bell came to Palo Alto for a monthly meeting and when he entered the conference room he came directly to me and swooped me up in a bear-hug.  "Now, this is a fine woman," he declared to my astonished colleagues, it was after all no secret he was not fond of me..."This marvelous woman left pints all over Edinburgh for me and my team!  We have been drinking on her and to her all month!" he declared.  Hey, if you cannot play third base, be third base.  We were fast friends from then on.  And I have never been to Edinburgh that I have not left a pint for him at Kay's bar.

Patty McCord, the extraordinarily gifted Chief Talent Officer at Netflix worked with me at Sun.  We sent her on an expat assignment to Linlithgow.  Brave soul that she is, she packed up her family and spent the better part of a year as the American woman in residence.  She has her own stories of that experience.  But one day she called me in Pal 1 from Scotland to ask how she should handle a situation.  Seems Ian had blown her off all day as she tried to get time with him.  His admin finally told Patty to come meet with Ian at 5:30pm...but Ian had a business dinner that night so the meeting would be short.  Patty arrived at his private conference room for the meeting, where Ian proceeded to change his clothes during the meeting.  Stripping off his shirt and changing his pants behind the table.  It was a pretty obvious message of disrespect...what should she do.  I said, "Have you ever noticed those chalkboards above the bartenders in the pubs......"  Ian and Patty ended up with a fine and functional relationship.

Ian drove fast and was often stopped by the police.  He had lived in the US for 15 years, but he kept a Scottish drivers license for just these ocassions. He would pull it out and say in his thickest Dundee accent, "Ima  strrrranger in your land officerrrr, was I doin sometin wrrrong?" He never got a ticket.

Ian was one of the best dancers I have ever known. His mother taught him.  "It is a good mother who teaches her son how to dance" Ian said as he lindy-hopped with me at a Sun party.  He was right, my son dances beautifully.

When Ian's mother died, he told me this story. It took Ian years to finish a degree.  He was from a part of Dundee that  did not produce many college graduates.  Ian worked and went to school when he could for many years.  When he finally graduated, the neighborhood threw a big party for him at the pub.  It was a big party and it went on for hours...but as it was beginning to wane, Ian's mother, took him into the kitchen and said, "Ok, Ian, Mr college graduate, now, teach me everything."  Then he put his head on my shoulder and cried a bit.

I have not seen Ian since 1997.  We had both left Sun and we met in the lobby of Kevin Melia's and Bob Graham's company, Manufacturers Services Limited.  It was a great reunion.  He had been sick and lost some weight, I had dieted and lost a boodle of weight.  We showed our new figures off to each other and reminisced a bit.  I am not sure where he is today.  I hope he and Nancy are sunning themselves on an island.

More soon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 3

It has long been my theory that in the early days, Sun Microsystems was held together by stock options and sexual tension.

24 years ago, a woman we will call Judi came to my office to complain about a coworker. It seems one of our accountants was being very aggressive in pursuit of a date. She did not feel she was being harassed, but she was not interested. It struck me as odd that she and the bean-counter had ever even crossed paths. She was a technician in manufacturing in Milpitas and he supported Sales in Mt View. When I asked her about this, Judi replied, casually, "Oh, we haven't really met, but I went skinny dipping with him and a bunch of the folks from sales in the Hyatt Rickey's hotel pool at the last company party. And we fooled around a little bit." My expression must have communicated my thoughts, because Judi rushed on to say, "Please, it was the product launch and we were celebrating....I would NEVER date anyone at work!" So, getting naked and "fooling around a little bit" with coworkers is OK, but dating is out. "Before that party, I had not had a date in four months," Judi later told me. "I had been working 75 hour weeks! So, we go to this party and things happen. But I do not want to date him, so can you make him go away?" The accountant was astonished and crushed. Silly boy, he had misread the situation. Seems in his last company, if a woman stripped off her clothes and kissed you in a hotel pool it was a sign of some sort of interest. Not at Sun. At Sun it was just a way of saying, "Hey! We launched SPARC!"

One Sunday afternoon in the late '80s, I decided to get a head start on the week and went to my office in Milpitas to do some work. I entered the building at the back and passed through the manufacturing floor on my way to the office space. As I entered the offices I passed by a darkened conference room where I noticed movement. I backed up and saw the VP of Finance for Operations and a young woman from the materials organization standing in the back corner; she was peeking out from behind him. They were standing very close together. I moved on to my desk.

A couple of minutes later, the VP of Finance came to my desk. "Hey!" he started talking at a break-neck pace, sounding a lot like a panicked Brian from Family Guy, "Getting a running start at the week? Great. That's great! I just came in to, um, go over some materials numbers with the team there. She, I mean they, wanted some help with some numbers." I just stood there looking at this married man with children who, apparently, thought I was an idiot. "Yeah, we cleared up their number issues....oh, and you might have noticed me and Betty in the conference room just now. We had just turned the lights out, and were just standing their talking about numbers when you saw us. She, was confused about the numbers and so, we were just talking about numbers in the dark conference room when you went by." You know, I might have bought it...maybe, if it hadn't been for the fact that the entire time he was going through this monologue, his shirt-tail was sticking out of his fly.

Another senior finance guy (what is it with finance?) used to park his car under the trees in the far corner of our Pal 1 office parking lot...next to the KFC. It seemed odd to me that he would park virtually a full city-block away from the building, but I thought he was just a healthy guy who liked to walk a bit. Then one day, one of his colleagues jokingly suggested I keep an eye on the car at lunch time. I had no idea what he was talking about and I was not about to stand around spying on this guy's car. Do I look like Gladys Kravitz? Not much time passed though until the finance guy's boss told me that he had to figure out a way to tell this guy to stop having sex in his car at lunch. What was to figure out? I suggested he say "Stop it!" and that seemed to work.

Our CEO was single-and-ready-to-mingle for most of my career at Sun. Crawford Beveridge carried most of the water keeping Scott out of trouble in those days. But I would get the odd assignment related to Scott's sex-life. At several of the annual VP/Directors conferences I was asked to keep and eye on Scott's date. Sometimes it was to assure his date did not get bored or feel left out, sometimes it was to be sure she didn't steal the silver from the hotel. On one occasion, Scott brought a woman to this event that he had met on a plane the night before. That wouldn't be such a big deal except the rumor is that on the second night of the festivities, she had only known Scott for 36 hours, hadn't really seen him much, and could not remember exactly what he looked like....she ended up in some other guys room and only figured out it wasn't Scooter when she realized it wasn't the CEO's suite.

We watched out for Scott. At the launch party for the opening of the new plant in Scotland, when it looked like he was getting too cozy with one of the young woman who worked there, I was assigned to go get his sweater back from her (she was acting like it was an emerald cut set with baguettes), load him in a taxi and deliver him back to the hotel. Scott wasn't drunk or foolish...he was just a 35 year old single guy having a good time.

There is a rumor that at one of the Sales boondoggles in Florida, one of the female sales reps, who'd been to the beach that morning, inadvertently dropped her bra out of a rolled-up towel as she got on the plane. Scott found it and, according to Sun-lore, walked up and down the aisle of the plane with the bra claiming that like Prince Charming with the glass slipper, he would marry whomever the bra fit. He had no takers.

Another time, when Crawford was on vacation, I got a call from Japan. Scott had been out with the sales team there and it seemed as though the female sales administrator might have misinterpreted Scott's attention to her. I think she was arranging for him to meet her parents. Could I figure out a way to head this off? This was my first introduction to the real meaning of "high-context culture". I called a couple of my Japanese-American colleagues, all men it turned out, who, after they laughed their butts off for a while, told me they couldn't help. But as they were leaving my office, one of them suggested his Japanese mother might be able to help me. So, my colleague and his mom got on the phone with me and we called the young woman in the sales office in Japan. I ultimately sent flowers to both the woman in Japan and the Japanese mother in the USA and said a small prayer for our CEO.

I have enormous respect and affection for Carol Bartz, but her love life was the bane of the HR existence at Sun. During my tenure she was married to two sales guys (at different times, we were not that Libertarian). This caused organizational issues up the wazoo. She couldn't be married to anyone who was in her organization and she was running more and more of Sun as time went on, so options were getting limited. Her second husband came to work in Operations, but as Carol's career progressed, it looked like he was going to end up serving lunch in the cafeteria in order to stay clear of reporting to her.

I do not know how many love affairs, engagements and marriages occurred between co-workers over the years. It was just too hard to keep the players straight. It was a sexy place, filled with young, smart, passionate people. It was work to not to fall in love with your colleagues. I had, on average, one serious crush per year, and I remain in love with some of those men in my own Irish-Catholic-chaste way.

There were two women who claimed they had "bagged" all 4 founders. I have no idea if it was true.