Spring Back in My Step

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, I was in Cleveland with my mom in her last days on this earth. Those were dark days but I’ve had time to heal, get some distance, and rebalance my life.  And I’m doing great.

First, I think my mom is happy, wherever she is.  She was tired of her body falling apart and of not being able to do everything she wanted.  She missed my dad.  She was ready for whatever comes next. And we were ready to let her go. It was time.

Second, in the past 12 months, I’ve come to embrace my new life away from work. To my astonishment, I don’t miss it at all. I was worried that I would be bored, that I would be lonely, and that I would feel useless. And you know what? I’m not bored, lonely or feeling useless.

My family is happy that I’m around. My dog is thrilled.  I’ve planted a garden, traveled, read dozens of books.  I keep an active life online and stay in touch with treasured friends around the world. I give back to my communication profession as a Melcrum Black Belt trainer. I pick up the occasional consulting assignment – if it looks interesting. And if it doesn’t, I’m happy to refer it to someone else.  I’m here to tell you: this is an awesome gig!

One of the most healing things I did was go through all the old photos with my sister.  I saw my parents as young, middle-aged and old.  But happy through all the years of their lives. I saw how they loved family, friends, travel, their lovely home – and most important, each other. It made me feel better about saying goodbye to them, because, in fact, they lived wonderful lives. And have inspired me to do the same.

With joy, I watch my garden grow.  Peppers, tomatoes, citrus, figs, herbs and beans coming to fruition in their own time.  Like me.


Building the Life I Want

When Sun was sold to Oracle, I lost my job, as did many others. Because I’m (ahem) a little older, I had the advantage of options – look for a full-time job, look for a part-time job, freelance, join an agency, or do nothing at all.  Over the past year, I’ve done all of the above.

After I said “No thanks” to a fourth job offer, I realized that there was no company in the world that appealed to me just now.  I was still so burnt out after the nightmare of Sun’s last couple of years that the thought of running someone else’s communication department gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I tried joining a small agency with friends; that was pretty much a disaster.  (Note: if you value your friends, do NOT go into business with them – please learn from my mistakes. In the end I had no business and no more friendship, a bad deal all around.)

I picked up a couple of consulting assignments, but because I just didn’t (and don’t) want to go market myself aggressively, the gigs were occasional, with long droughts of nothing in between.

Which I was really fine with.  I’ve surprised myself at how happily occupied I can stay without the structure of a job.  I cook, practice Spanish, listen to music, visit my grandchildren, stay in touch with friends, walk my dog, spend time with my husband, read, watch crap TV, and enjoy myself.

But as time went on, my new life started to grow in some interesting ways.  First, thanks to Rick Sauter (who works for Communitelligence), I was given the opportunity to become a trainer for Melcrum, facilitating their Black Belt communication courses, along with two other trainers.  I can’t tell you how wonderful this is, and how much I enjoy it.  I meet tons of people, I interact with professionals who are eager to further their communication skills, and I get to stand in front of a group and share what I’ve learned. Perfect.  Second, my consulting business grew, somewhat to my surprise.  More assignments started coming in, but not so many as to overwhelm my quality of life.  Just enough to keep me on my toes and engaged.

How long ago was Sun?  Honestly, I can’t tell you.  It feels like a lifetime away.  I’ve walked away from it with the best – strong friendships forged under good and bad times at what was the greatest company in the world, invaluable learning experiences, and a finely honed philosophy of communication ideals and practice.

I’ve reclaimed my life, my profession, my family, my sanity.  Everyday I wake up, excited about what is to come. With no regrets about what is past.

It’s Good Not To Be King

Or queen.  As you prefer.

I’ve become engrossed in the Teaching Company’s lectures on Medieval England, and the more I learn about being king, the less appealing it becomes – at least to me.  The constant maneuvering, the battles for position, the forsaking of personal relationships for business ones – why, it sounds a lot like life in the corporate world during uncertain times.

For more years than I like to think about, I called the shots at work.  Overall?  It was great, and throughout the executive portion of my career, I enjoyed “my reign” and the privileges that cometh with “royalty”.  But there was a downside (OK, there were lots), usually around political battles.  Which were exhausting, and ultimately for me, self-destructive in terms of my health and my career.

So over the last year, as I walked away from full-time work into full-time life with an occasional consulting assignment – of my choosing – one of the things I’ve learned to love most is not being in charge.  I’m not in charge of anyone’s career.  I’m not in charge of anyone’s raise or promotion. I’m not in charge of anyone’s business, except my own.  I’m not responsible for other people’s work.  I answer only for what I do.  And I can’t tell you how liberating this is.

There have been adjustments.  No one kisses my ass anymore.  I don’t walk up the red carpet to board the plane.  I actually have to watch what I spend, as big paychecks are a thing of the past. I don’t have access to the inside story, or to CEOs and other gods of the corporate world.

Like I said, it’s good not to be king.

It’s January, and a full, delightful year of not having those corporate worries anymore has passed.  I’m 58 years old, but feel like a kid again.  When I have a chance to add value through my knowledge and creativity, I’m delighted to do it.  When I don’t, I’m very happy to entertain myself.  (And I’m darn good at it, if I do so say myself!)

My husband was worried that I would be a fish out of water without my crown and scepter, that I would be bored, restless and depressed.  He is frankly shocked at how little I miss the power and the glory.

So a toast to being a commoner.  Long may we reign!

Me, Myself and I

My favorite subject.  Oh come, come, now.  Don’t make me feel selfish here – you’re the same, I know.

I continue on my journey of self-discovery, stripped of self-importance symbols bestowed by corporate employers, forced to look inside to see what makes me tick. My first tentative step was last year, when I chose to go part-time at Sun.  I never intended to stay there so long – when I joined in 2003 I thought I’d be there for one or two years max.  After six years of working hard to keep employees engaged and committed as the company continued to struggle, I realized I had nothing left to say.  And that I had lost my freshness and enthusiasm, making me less than the great leader I expected myself to be. So, with the approval of my executive, I selected a couple of juicy projects – the Web 2.0 transformation and the Leadership Conference – to spend my energy on and left the heavy lifting to someone else.

That was a terrific arrangement until Oracle acquired my beloved company, and my projects lost their … juice.  And funding.

So fast forward to the fall of 2009.  Still exhausted and bruised from fighting the good fight at Sun, I could not imagine ever accepting another corporate staff job.

So where the heck does that leave me now? Frankly?  I’ve found the courage to step out on my own, and years of healthy earnings plus disciplined financials gave me the ability to be picky about my work.  I am one lucky woman.

And so the question comes back to, what do I want to do? And the answer is…work on projects that get me incredibly excited and energized.  Employee engagement.  Executive communication counsel and coaching.  Training.  Writing. Helping others rethink communication.  Oh, and being happy, enthused and energized.

Because otherwise, what’s the point?

Shocking! Controversial! McNealy’s e-Mail!

OK, I was a little irritated that I had to pull down my post that, after all, contained the text that was widely available on CNET and other news outlets.  But good team player that I am – and despite the fact that this blog runs on WordPress, not blogs.sun.com – I did the righteous thing.  I do think some took offense at what I saw as a pretty harmless intro.  But I’ll let you be the judge… Here it is, in unabridged form!

For those of you who didn’t have the privilege of working with Scott, this email will give you a sense of the man. This is a guy who cared more for his company and his employees than he did for himself. Tough as can be, Scott could still surprise you with a little bit of sentimentality. Scott hired me over seven years ago, and when he stepped out of the role of CEO, much of the joy in my job slipped away.

You don’t often get a chance to work for a true leader. I count myself among the lucky few.



When I interviewed many of you for employment at Sun over the years, one commitment often made was that things will change above, below, and around you faster than any place you have ever been. Looks like this was one area we exceeded plan for 28 years. While it was never the primary vision to be acquired by Oracle, it was always an interesting option. And this huge event is upon us now. Let’s all embrace it with all of the enthusiasm and class and talent that we have to offer.

This combination has the potential to put Sun, its people, and its technology at the center of yet another industry and game changing inflection point. The opportunity is well documented and articulated by Larry and the Oracle folks. Not much I can add on this score. This is a very powerful merger. And way better than some of the alternatives we were facing.

So what do I say to all of you now this is happening?

It turns out that one simple message to the large and diverse Sun community is actually quite hard to craft. Even for a big mouth who is always ready with a clever quip. The community includes our resellers and customers, our current and former employees, their friends and families who supported our employees on their mission to change the industry, our investors, our supply and service partners, students and educators, and even our competitors with whom we often collaborated.

But let me try. Though nothing I could write comes close to matching the unbelievably strong and positive emotions I have for you all. See, I never was able to master dispassion. I truly loved starting, running, and living Sun. And the last four years have not been without serious withdrawal. And the EU approval rocked me more than it should have.

So, to be honest, this is not a note this founder wants to write. Sun in my mind should have been the great and surviving consolidator. But I love the market economy and capitalism more than I love my company. And I sure “hope” America regains its love affair with capitalism. And except for the auto industry, financial industry, health care, and some other places (I digress), the invisible hand is doing its thing quite efficiently. So I am more than willing to accept this outcome. And my hat is off to one of the greatest capitalists I have ever met, Larry Ellison. He will do well with the assets that Sun brings to Oracle.

What we did right and wrong at Sun over the years might make for interesting reading. However, I am not a book writer. I am a husband, father of four, and a builder and leader of people who want to make a difference.

But spare me a bit of nostalgia. Not of the mistakes we made, and lord knows I made a ton. But of the things we did right and well.

First and foremost, Sun innovated like crazy. We took it to the limit (see Eagles). And though we did not monetize our inventions as well as we could have, few companies have the track record in R&D that we had over the last 28 years. This made working at Sun really cool. Thanks to all of you inventors and risk takers who changed how we live.

Sun cared about its customers. Even more than we cared about our own company at times. We looked at our customer’s mission as more important than ours. Maybe we should have asked for more revenue in return, but our employees were always ready to help first. I love this about Sun which I guess makes me a good capitalist if not a great capitalist.

Sun did not cheat, lie, or break the rule of law or decency. While we enjoyed breaking the rules of conventional wisdom and archaic business practice and for sure loved to win in the market, we did so with a solid reputation for integrity. Nearly three decades of competing without a notable incident of our folks going off course morally or legally. Not all executives and big companies are bad. Really. There are good companies out there. Special thanks to all of my employees for this. I never had to hide the newspaper in shame from my children.

Sun was a financial success. We paid billions in taxes, salaries, purchases, leases, training, and even lawyers and accountants for devastatingly cumbersome SOX and legal compliance (oops, more classic digression). Long term and smart investors made billions in SUNW. And our customers generated revenue and savings using our equipment in countless ways. Many employees started families, bought homes and put them through school while working at Sun. Our revenues over 28 years exceeded $200B. Few companies make it to the F200. We did. Nice.

Sun employees had way more fun than any other company. By far. From our dress code (“You must!”) to beer busts to our April Fools pranks to SunRise to our quiet enjoyment at night of a long hard well done day of work, no company enjoyed “work” more than Sun. Thanks to all of our employees past and present for making Sun such a blast.

I could go on for a long time reminiscing about the good and great stuff we did at Sun, but just allow me one last one. We shared. Not the greatest attribute for a capitalist. But one I could not change and was not willing to change about Sun while I was in charge. We shared in the success of Sun with our resellers. With our employees through stock options, SunShare, beer busts, and the like (for as long as Congress would allow) and through our efforts to keep as many of them on board for as long as possible during the inevitable down cycles. With our partners through the Java Community Process, through our open source collaborations, and licensing strategies. With our customers through our commitments to low barriers to exit. Sun was never just about us. It was about we. And that may be a bit of the reason we are where we are today.

But I have few regrets (see Sinatra’s “My Way”) and will always look back at Sun and its gang with only pride. Enormous pride. You are the best this industry ever had though few outside of Sun recognized it. And what we are about will live on in Sparc, Solaris, Java, our products, and our spirit. Well past everyone’s recollections of what we did together. I will never forget though.

Oracle is getting a crown jewel of the technology industry. They will do great things with Sun. Do your best to support them and keep the Sun spirit alive and well in the industry. Our children will be better for it.

Thanks for the off the charts support to everyone who ever carried a Sun badge, used our products, or helped our company through the years.

And thanks to my wonderful wife, Susan, who gave this desperado (see Eagles) a chance to choose the Queen of Hearts before it was too late. Someday, hopefully, you will all get to see or meet her and my other life’s works named Maverick, Dakota, Colt and Scout. If you do, perhaps you will understand why I stepped back from the CEO role four years ago. And why I feel like the luckiest guy in the whole world.

My best to all of you, and remember:

Kick butt and have fun!


A Reflection on 2009

This was a big year for me, marked by two events.  I became a grandmother, and I chose happiness.  And yes, the two are related.

One of the lovely things about becoming a grandmother is that you don’t have to make a lot of the choices you are forced to make as a new mom.   At an age and time when I’ve accomplished much of what I sought, it’s much easier for me to be relaxed about pursuing a less ambitious agenda. Hardly the case 25 years ago, when I was tormented by my decision to take on a demanding career while raising children.  I didn’t do so well at being a supermom, as I wrote a few years ago in Confessions of a Working Mother.

But as a grandparent?  My only job is to support our daughter and to love our grandson.  Not tough duty.

Now, on choosing happiness.  Please don’t think I’ve chosen unhappiness in the past – I’m no one’s idea of martyr. But I often chose ambition over family.  And making a point versus just going along. I chose a job requiring massive amounts of travel because the job was more interesting than the one that would have allowed me to work in my home city.  And if we’re going to be honest, I chose prestige and money over less demanding but perfectly fine jobs.

Titles were important to me.  My paycheck was important to me.  Being respected was important to me (and still is, BTW).  Those decisions led me to compromises over the years in terms of happiness versus personal fulfillment.

When I learned that Carolyn was pregnant, my perspective changed dramatically. A baby!  My baby was having a baby! This wonderful news happened at about my lowest point in morale at Sun.  After years of struggling with company politics and a very different culture from the one I joined seven years ago, I suddenly had something positive and exciting in my life  – and it had nothing to do with work.

I had a lot of thinking to do about what comes next, and I approached it with one simple mantra:  I want to be happy.  Not important.  Not rich.  Just… happy. So I said “no” to a number of job offers.  I scaled my hours at Sun way back to just one day per week, which took me out of the political wars and back to just doing a couple of projects I enjoyed. I thought about my husband, our son, our daughter.  I took long walks with my dog.  I gave myself room to consider my future.

And so I finish 2009 with some satisfaction that you can teach an old dog new tricks.  That I can change and do something which I thought was totally against my nature.  I look forward to 2010 with a burst of energy and enthusiasm that was lacking a year ago.  I have no bitterness about the changes at Sun that I could not adapt to, nor regrets that I couldn’t adjust.  Instead, I’m excited about The Fibonacci Design Group and making a contribution in a different way. I’m excited about seeing our grandson turn one.  I’m excited about watching my daughter grow as a mother and my son grow as an uncle.  I’m excited about life again.  And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

I wish you the same in 2010 – make it a year of positive choices and happiness.

Facing Up to the Ugly Truth on Facebook

“After 22 years with Sun…”

“You guys are the best – I’ll miss every one of you…”

“Waiting and waiting – will the axe fall today?”

These are just a few of the layoff messages I’ve seen on Facebook today from my many friends and colleagues at Sun.  Heads are rolling, and with this, the 8th or so major Sun reduction in force in five years, there seems little rhyme or rhythm as to who has to go this round.  Eventually, I guess, we’ll all be gone. And what was once the best company on the planet will be just a memory.

I’ve been down all day about this, but do draw some comfort from the number of supportive messages being posted – some in response to a particular person’s layoff and some just expressing, as Dana Fugate said, small written hugs to our community.

I’ve also had several online Facebook chats with colleagues about how they’re doing.  It’s tough to be laid off, but it’s also heart-wrenching to have to give the news to one of your employees.   Miserable stuff, all around.

And meanwhile, we continue to wait for the European Union to approve our acquisition by Oracle.  And wait.  And wait.  And worry.  Then wait some more.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I extend my  warmest support and good wishes to all Sunnies – whether you lost your job, whether you had to tell someone the bad news, or whether you simply are watching good people go.  It’s a sad day for all of us.