Friday, February 26, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Coming Soon

 From my email this past month:

"I am eagerly awaiting the Bill Raduchel segment." 

"When are you going to write about Bill Raduchel?"

"I bet you are still afraid of Bill!"

"I've heard you had run-ins with Raduchel." 

"Did you ever work with Bill Raduchel?"

"Can you tell any stories about Bill R?"

Slow down campers...I cannot rush the telling of this tale....I am working on itSoon, very soon.

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.

A Sun exec driving down 101 at a pretty rapid clip when a call came to him from a former female subordinate.  He hears a baby crying in the background.  "Did you have a baby?  he inquires.  "Yes!" she says, "and so did you."  Repairs to the car were numerous and expensive.

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 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 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.....?" 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 10

 Standing on the border of the future with "One Cheek in Italy and One Cheek in Austria"

In 1989 Crawford Beveridge decided he needed a VP of Human Resources to report to him.  Crawford's background was in HR but at this point at Sun he also was running Facilities and IT.  He needed someone who could focus just on HR.  I don't blame him; HR was a handful.  Crawford ran a process for selection of this new VP by collecting feedback on three internal candidates:  Dick McQuillen, a Brit who had worked with Crawford in a past life; David Lietzke, an Oklahoman we had hired from Apple; and another Brit friend of Crawford's whose name escapes me (I do remember that he insulted the crap out of me one time by pointing out what nota bene meant....uh, excuse me, I went to Catholic school....I might not be able to curse in English, but I know my Latin, bardus!)

When Dick McQuillen was promoted to VP of HR, I was pretty upset.  David Lietzke, my friend and mentor, decided to leave Sun at that point.  I was suspect of Dick.  He had spent only a little time as the Director of HR in Europe for Sun.  He was from DEC, not an HR organization for which I had a lot of respect (way too many rules and much to much process), and he was so quiet...I never knew what he was thinking.  He also seemed, at first, to be a mini-me of Crawford.  We had a Crawford.  I thought we could use some alternative thinking.  So I behaved badly. Dick and I circled each other cautiously...well he was cautious, I was a pill and a smart-ass and in retrospect it is shocking he did not fire me.  When he and Crawford took back-to-back vacations and some decisions were postponed because we could not get them both to sign off, I posted a note outside my office asking the question:  "Attention HR:  would you rather have a Crawfordless Dick or a Dickless Crawford decide?"   A few months into his new job Dick took some time off and asked me to fill in for him.  It was a generous thing to do, he was reaching out to me; someone who was bent on being disrespectful to him.  I was rethinking my opinion when he made the mistake of sending an email to the EMG and all of HR referring to me as his deputy.  I could not resist and I wore a hat, a star and called myself Deputy-Dick all week. 

One day in late July 1990, Dick came to my office and in his beautiful English public school accent asked if I would be interested in participating in the inaugural executive development program at Sun.  "Excellence @ Sun", was a new program for high-potential Directors and VP's.  It was an honor to be chosen to participate and I was happy to tell him yes, but rather surprised that he had recommended me.  Then Dick said, "I will be going as well.  It is going to be in Obergurl, Austria, much of the program will be outside on a mountain.  And, Nancy, we either come back friends or one of us is going off the mountain."  Well, I guess I was wrong, I guess I did know what he was thinking.

I arrived in Munich very early on a Sunday morning September 2nd, 1990 with a guy from Sun that I did not know well, Walt Brown.  We were so early....the rest of the participants were due to meet at the airport in 5 hours and then we would all travel to Obegurgl by bus.  Walt and I needed to kill some time.  There are two things open in Munich at 7am Sunday; Churches and Beer-Gardens.  We decided to alternate, first a church, with it's Rococo gilded-wedding-cake interior then a beer-garden with wooden tables and big beer steins, then a church, then a beer-garden.  Let me just say this.  Walt Brown is a great guy.  There is no one in the world I would rather get liquored-up and visit churches with.

We all finally assembled at the airport.  24 of us.  22 men and 2 women.  Kay Hart, a woman from Marketing whom I did not know well, and I were the only female participants.  We boarded the bus and I felt this horrible sinking feeling....not just because of all of the "church visits" I had managed that morning coupled with the diesel fumes were making me a bit queasy, but also because it was dawning on me how competitive this week was likely to be.  24 VP's and Directors from Sun, 22 of them men.  The smell of testosterone was stronger than the diesel fumes on the way to Austria.

Munich airport is a long way from Obergurgl. At the halfway point, Dick McQuillen insisted that we stop at an Inn and toast to the reunification of Germany.  I was beginning to like him more by the moment.  The first competition was a discussion of German wines.  What was interesting is that the Californians dominated the conversation....the poor guys from Europe, including a couple of Germans....never got a chance to voice their opinions.

After a couple of glasses of wine we reboarded the bus and made our way to the facility where we would spend our week.  I say facility because we were staying at the Austrian Olympic Ski Team's training center.  We are not talking 5 star accomodations.  This is not a 3 star venue.  This was a lovely but very "monastic" school for athletes.  The men were shown to dormitories with communal bathrooms.  Kay and I shared a room with a private bath.  It was late afternoon/early evening...most of us had been sleepless and traveling for many hours.  We were ready for dinner and all trooped down to the dining room.

The little bar was closed which did not surprise was Sunday night and we were the only guests.  A buffet of salads was waiting for us so we helped ourselves to the first course.  Some lettuce, some cold cuts, nice fresh rolls and then we all were chatting about what to expect from the next day, when we noticed that the salads course was being put away and the kitchen was closing.  Seems what we thought was a salad course....was dinner.  Oops.

The team looked around for our guide and facilitator, an amazing man named Horst Abraham.  Horst explained that given the rigors of the coming days our menu had been chosen for maximum nutrition and rapidity of transit time (yes, that is just what you think it is).  In other words: dinner was over, get over it.
There were cries of protest.  A small group decided to hike into town and eat at one of the restaurants.  Horst intervened and reexplained that the work we would be doing, dangling off the sides of the mountain the next day might be impeded by a rich, calorie laden dinner tonight.  Suddenly you could see a little bit of apprehension set into the group.  What had we gotten into here?  Most of us thought this was another Sun Boondoggle and had not really done the prep work (including a three week physical activity prescription to be accomplished before arriving)....we all were beginning to wonder if we had made a mistake.

The next day was an eye-opener.  We assembled early.  Maybe 6:00am.  We walked about a mile to a river bank (a group Horst dubbed the "rabbits" ran to the river bank) where we were taught to begin the days with some Tai Chi.  We did all of this in silence.  No talking on the walk, no talking during Tai Chi, no talking on the walk back to the school.  You could talk when we got to breakfast.  Breakfast was granola, milk and some whole wheat baked goods.  No eggs, no bacon, no muffins.  The group was now beginning to panic about the food situation and I believe that at this point a couple of the guys from Sales were plotting an escape.  We did some classroom work that morning on creating a vision for ourselves and then we were given a sack lunch, fitted with mountaineering garb and went outside.  Another walk/hike to a meadow situated between two cliffs...a big one, and an enormous one.  If you were experienced at ascent and abseiling, you headed to the enormous cliff.  If you had never seen a caribiner before, you stayed on the "bunny" cliff.  I was in the bunny group.  The instructors gave us the verbal rundown of what was to come and then they demonstrated how to just sit-down in mid-air off the face of a cliff and remain in a sitting position bouncing your feet off the side of the mountain while your guide controls the ropes that lower you.  I now understood the wisdom of the light meals and rapid transit time...without it I am sure I would have needed a change of underwear at this point.  I was scared spitless.

So, let me explain why I volunteered to go first.  I was a 5' tall woman with a weight problem surrounded by a bunch of competitive Sun Mircosystems male colleagues.  I had to go first.  I could not let the men know I was afraid.  I would never regain any status or respect if I wimped out.   I went to the top of the cliff, turned around, and with the guides holding a labyrinth of ropes, spread my arms out from my sides and simply leaned back off of the edge as far as I could in a sort-of backward swan dive.  When I was perpendicular to the cliff, I bent up from the waist and proceeded to bounce down the mountain.  The truth is it was not a very big cliff.  It was small.  But, 25% of all mountaineering deaths occur abseiling down a cliff less than 30 feet tall.   I bet I did not take a single breath on the way down.  

Getting back up the cliff was a bit more taxing.  Finding hand holds and toe holds, not using your knees to climb...tough work for a chubby girl.  That night I was bruised from head to foot.  I was bruised by the harness, I had used my knees to climb, I had bumped a shin on the way down and torn-up my elbow on the way back up.  Good times so far.

Each day Mon - Wed was the same.  Silent mornings at the riverbed, classwork and small group break-outs on a variety of leadership topics, some feedback on our style and then afternoons outside taking longer hikes and doing the up and down the cliff action a few times.  We were preparing for a trek up the glacier into Italy, where we would spend the night in a hutte and hike back to our ski school the next day.  We were beginning the trek right after an early breakfast on Thursday.  We would take the ski lift up the mountain and when we got off the lift, we would continue up the glacier for some hours, ascend a sheer cliff and continue to the hutte.  It was expected to take the better part of the day...and we would do some sight-seeing along the way, dangling down into the cravasses to get a better view of the deep blue color of the glacier.  Thursday we assembled in our hiking gear.  This time we were given a substantial sack lunch...sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, cookies, veggies.  It looked like a last supper to me.  I was sick with worry about my ability to make this trek.  

I was worried about the wrong thing.  When we finally got to the glacier, we added crampons to our hiking boots. They broke us into two teams: 11 men and 1 woman on each team.  Then, they did the funniest thing, they tied each team together at the waist.  We would spend the next 6-10 hours tied at the waist.  Ok.  Fine for the guys...but let me ask you this:  how does one pee with discretion when she is tied at the waist to 11 men?  Several guys saw the issue immediately and offered to lower me down a cravass for privacy.  Really, there was no way I was going to let them lower and hoist my fat-cravASS anywhere.  One of my rope-mates had thought this might be an issue and produced a one person tent from his knapsack that he offered as my own personal-potty during the trip.  I declined and decided to manage this dilemma in a different fashion, I simply stopped drinking anything.  The guides had driven home the need for fluids on this trip, but that was silly...there was no way I was going to risk a full bladder until I was in Italy, in a hutte with plumbing.   

So we headed south-east over the glacier toward the Italian province of Bolzano-Bozen.  

We discovered very quickly that I was not an asset to the team.  Out-of-shape, short of stature, taking small steps, breathing too hard from the altitude.  I am lucky they did not throw me down a cravass.  I think George Reyes had to be talked out of cutting the rope and leaving me for dead on the glacier.

We finally reached the sheer cliff that was the border of Austria and Italy.  We did not really have to do the ascent thing....there was a path and a wire guideline to hang onto as you made your way up the stone wall.
When you reached the top you were straddling the border of the two countries and each of us took our turn showing off "one cheek in Italy and one cheek in Austria."

As I stood there, in the Austria/Italian Alps with one cheek in each, in the company of some of the smartest and most accomplished people I have ever known, all I could think about was my parents.  My folks died when I was pretty young.  They never really had a glimpse into who I might grow up to be.  I am certain that they assumed I would grow up and marry a man who would take me to Europe on his arm.  They could no more have imagined the experience I was having than they could imagine me traveling to Mars.  It simply was not in their world view.  And, so, I said a little prayer as I stood there and asked that they take a peek back at Earth to see what their baby-girl was up to.  It was one of the most moving moments in my entire life.

My rope-mates and I arrived at the hutte at least an hour behind the other group.  They beat us by that much even though Kay Hart fell into a cravass when a snow bridge gave way under her. ( Luckily, the engineering of the tied-at-the-waist arrangement worked and as the guys all just sat down where they stood, up popped Kay from the cravass.  It was a thing of beauty.)  I had held the team up.  I was pretty embarassed by this and was not feeling my best as we stored our outer-wear and put on slippers to wear in the hutte.  We assembled for a meal and ate what I believe was the best soup and spaghetti dinner ever.  Afterward we each took turns entertaining the group.  Highlights for me are Walt Brown reciting a risque poem, Dick McQuillen singing the Irish lament "Four Green Fields" and the adorable Gerry Dube's beautiful tenor voice blessing us with "Ave Maria" in that warm, snug hutte on the top of an Alp.

I was sick all night.  Seems not staying hydrated exacerbates altitude sickness.  I had achieved my goal of not having to pee on the trek up.  But I was paying for it very dearly.  I spent most of the night laying outside the bathroom on the cool wooden floor thinking I was going to die of a headache.  The next morning, one of the guys from Germany gave me some fennel pills....I felt better almost immediately and I felt much better as soon as we descended to about 7,000 feet.

We trecked down off of the glacier, and hiked back to the ski school the next day.  The whole trip was probably 20 miles round-trip.  But we had all traveled much farther than that.  I got blisters on the way down.  I remember Walt Brown and a couple of the other guys wrapping my foot in mole-skin and then deciding I should not walk the last mile back to the school.  They sprinted ahead and came back in a jeep for me.  My heros.

That Friday night the bar was open at the school.  We drank a bit.  Dinner was not as spartan as earlier in the week.  Some of the guys hiked into town and kept the party going into the wee hours.  We all felt we had accomplished something special.  We had bonded over fear, meals, vision exercises, Tai Chi, feedback, bunnies and rabbits, trekking and laughing in the Alps.  We parted that Saturday morning different people than we were when we arrived. At least one of us decided to change their career and life during that week and when we returned to California, Dick McQuillen, who was now my dear friend and a role model of living your values, decided to leave HR and do some work in Asia.  Wouldn't you know...just when I decided I liked the bloke.

Friday, February 19, 2010

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

I have been lax this week.  I write when I have insomnia and this week I have slept too well.  But, in the works for the coming week:

  • A "Radical" look at the world
  • One cheek in Austria and one cheek in Italy.....Excellence@Sun
  • Unconfirmed and uncomfortable rumors.
  • "Close Chicago!"  Requests I could never fulfill.
  • My favorite bosses are 3,000 miles away.

I have received such positive feedback and so many kind words, I can only say.......where the hell were you people when I was getting performance reviews?

More soon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life in the Boy's Dorm: My Career at Sun Microsystems Part 9

As Seen on TV. 

Charm School

Bob is hyper-active.  He is twitchy and itchy and never shuts up.  He shakes his foot, rocks back and forth in his chair, runs his hands through his hair and clears his sinuses non-stop.  He is 60 years old now and needs Ritalin, Aderall and sometimes a brick to the head.  He was worse when I worked with him 20 years ago.  Bob is totally politically incorrect (he lived outside the US during the '70's and most of the '80's and missed a lot of US cultural change) and always had to reference ethnicity or religion when speaking of someone ("He's a Jew from Brooklyn, he'll do great in purchasing" or "Well, Nancy, that guy is a Pakistani Muslim, so he is a bit touchy", or "he's a Congregationalist, what do you expect?"...How would I know what to expect of a Congregationalist?).  He not only still uses the word "Oriental" he will explain why it is the more correct description of those people who prefer to be called Asians (from an historical/geo-political perspective).  He is a news-junkie, Libertarian and a know-it all.  Bob can be a bit crude, sometimes does not assess his audience well, has limited social skills, sketchy manners, no patience for small-talk and he talks too much.  Moreover, he tends to fall asleep if anyone else is speaking.  Do you remember the show Seinfeld?  Think, Kramer....on crack.  That is Bob.  He is also generous, a man of great personal faith and pretty smart, if you can get past the other stuff.

I am really not sure how it all began, but when Bob was a VP in WWOPS at Sun, a gaggle of folks were in my office in PAL 1 discussing Bob and some of the challenges of working with him.   Someone suggested he open a Charm School.  We closed the door and started to whisper as we each came up with courses he might teach:
"How to mispronounce or forget the simplest of names" 
"Boring a room to tears with old stories of your former employers"
"Ethnic stereotyping in 3-Easy Steps"
"Adjusting your underwear while you adjust their attitude"
"Dominating conversations for fun and profit"
"Taking the shame out of sleeping through meetings"
And then Pam Headsten, dear sweet, Pamela who is so kind and lovely says, "And for early enrollment we will send you a copy of his new book.....Breaking Wind Without Breaking Stride!"
We were entertaining ourselves, but I figured it was all good-innocent-blowing-off-steam. 

However, when I came into work the next morning, there were flyers all over the WWOP's offices advertising "Bob's Charm School", including all of our courses and the book offer.  Someone had gotten their hands on Bob's badge picture (not flattering, he looked like a drug smuggler or as Bob would say, a Mexican drug smuggler),  created a 3-color flyer and peppered both PAL 1 and the Milpitas campuses.  It was soon being sent via email to Westford, MA; Linlithgow, Scotland and Atsugi, Japan.

It was a good laugh, Bob was a great sport about it (for all his peccadillo's, Bob is not entirely unaware) and it died down.

Three years later, when Bob and his business partner were running their $2Billion company, they were trying to close a big Silicon Valley customer.  At the final meeting, the go/no-go session, the potential customer pulls out an old, dog eared flyer....shoves it across the table at Bob's partner and asks, "How's Bob's Charm School working out?"  It didn't upset Bob at all, but his business partner was pissed at me for a year.

The Scalp Sucker 
The WWOP's cure for baldness (God love and bless Scott Walberg)

                      Before*                                     After*

Step 1.  Grow a full beard
Step 2.  Attach Scalp Sucker to top of bald head
Step 3. Turn machine on.
Holding one's nose is recommended so hairs do not shoot out.
* Actors, not actual Sun employees.

I do not know who created the ads for "The Scalp Sucker," (with pictures of actual Sun employees), that were on all of our desks one day in the '80's.  But I bless them and love them more than I can ever say.

More soon.


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.

More soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

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

No, no, no, no, 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 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 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' 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 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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

The story of Johnny DLP.

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

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

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

We had an employee at Sun that refused to declare their gender. And we never did figure it out.

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 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.