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.


  1. Interesting stuff - keep them coming!

    I worked for a company that worked closely with Sun and was bought by them in 2000 at the height of the dotcom mania. It seemed that many of the good and interesting people had already left by then and were replaced by dull corporate types. You could see the writing on the wall a decade ago!

  2. Yeah, the dotcom boom was (IMO) a major root cause of Sun's demise. There was such a mad rush to fill headcount that the considerations of quality went flying out the window. I joined Service in 1995. Us Service folks are stubborn cusses so most of us stuck it out anyway (well, I gave up on Service in 2008 and moved over to technical sales). But it always infuriated me to watch so much mid-range deadwood building fiefdoms and manipulating their metrics to make it seem like they were actually accomplishing something....

  3. I think some really good people were gained during the dotcom purchases but they left quite quickly (I include myself in this). The rapid growth allowed those who were, frankly, useless to hide in the numbers. A recent Sun leaver (friend-of-a-friend) managed to spend the last ten years there and even admitted he did almost no work the entire time. No way to run a business.

  4. It feels like I'm reading an episode from Mad Men (minus sex -- then again how knows).

  5. I met Ian last summer in Windsor CT and ran into him again this weekend. Definitely an interesting guy! He and his wife spend part of the year in CT and part in Scotland. He seems to be doing great.