I remember the first time I met Scott McNealy – I’m sure he doesn’t remember it. It was in the board room in our old headquarters in Palo Alto. I was with one of the folks from the startup I ran, and we were meeting on the advice of a mutual customer. I think it was 1992 or ’93. Before you could actually explain the internet to your parents.
I remember he talked about network computing in a very strange way – he just assumed the future, he’d already moved his entire mindset, and his lifestyle, to the network. He looked at the world through the network. And remember, the network didn’t really exist back then. It was a twinkle in a terminal window.
We were talking about the state of the industry – he viewed it in terms of a world that hadn’t been built. I viewed it (remember I was at a startup) in terms of what business I could close next quarter. I had payroll to make. And I can honestly say I’d never met anyone so plainspoken about the future. Or so facile with soundbites to describe it. He was confident in a cheshire cat kind of way, not arrogant or professorial. He was in on a secret: the network is the computer.
You may not remember what it was like in 1992, but Wall Street had Sun in its sights – Scott was getting all kinds of flak for not following the rest of the industry. He’d refused to endorse one particular technology, known then as the Chicago Project. A few of the pundits said, “The Chicago Project is the future, and Sun’s fighting it.” Scott didn’t think so. They said he was religious.
But he wasn’t making a bet. He was fulfilling a vision. A vision that was obvious to him, and a vision in which the Chicago Project would play a bit part – we had bigger things to focus on.
If you don’t remember the Chicago Project it was the code name to Microsoft’s Windows 95. The companies that adopted it – and replaced their own innovation – well, you can’t name them any more. They lost their ability to participate in the future, to differentiate.
What happened to Sun? Scott, and leaders across Sun, changed the world – by making an unpopular, but wildly successful bet on the internet as a driver of demand for systems innovation. The network is the computer.
A few years after that meeting, Netscape licensed the Java platform, my company was acquired by Sun, and I began working for Scott’s then CTO, Dr. Eric Schmidt. I saw the vision, the concept behind “the network is the computer,” wasn’t just Scott’s – everyone that worked at Sun thought his vision was obvious. And back in 1996, it was becoming more true, but not the certainty it is today – the world back then was fundamentally changing. Capital was shifting. Huge numbers of companies were being started and staffed, all over the world. Businesses were being transformed, started from nothing and becoming global titans. Enormous wealth was being created – durable wealth, not the donut franchises or sock puppets folks love to hate. Companies like eBay, AOL, Amazon, Yahoo! and Google.
And it has been, since that time, a wild ride for me, and for all of us at Sun. We’ve seen a massive global buildout, that took a pause in 2001 – remember, bubbles always precede buildouts. And Scott, back in 2001, when our revenue – given how focused we were on startups, on financial services and on telco customers – was on its way from 18 billion down to around 11… Scott was far more focused on what was going to happen in 2006 than worried about that quarter. He had that same confidence in the future I first saw in 1992. Bet on innovation and innovators. Stick to your vision and your visionaries.
Which is why he preserved R&D, and jobs, when the world told him otherwise. Why we preserved our relationships with the developer community. Why we redoubled our investment in systems innovation. Why we increased our attention on key customers and partners. Even broadened it to include some unfamiliar faces.
And nearly two years ago, Scott forwarded me something a journalist had written about Sun, and about Scott personally. It wasn’t the most positive note, and it was criticizing us for the bets we’d made, and for a vision that at that point, didn’t square with the reality in front of us – the new Chicago Project of the day looked more attractive.
And I sent a note back to Scott. Every once in a while you end up as the morale officer for your boss, and it was one of the rare days at Sun where I was more enthusiastic than Scott.
And what I told him then – is what I’ll tell you now.
There is no single individual who has created more jobs around the world than you. And unlike Henry Ford and some of the industrialists that preceded you, not all of those folks just work for Sun – I’m not talking hundreds or thousands of jobs, I’m talking millions. They ended up in America and India, Indonesia and Antarctica, Madagascar, Mexico, Brazil and Finland. They ended up everywhere. Everywhere the network travels.
No single individual has spawned so many startups, fueled so much venture investment, or raised so much capital without actually trying – just with a vision of the future that gets more obvious by the day.
No single individual has so effectively created and promoted the technologies at the heart of a new world emerging around us. A world in which the demand for network computing technology will never decline – as we share more family photos, watch more digital movies, do more banking on-line, build more communities on line, run our supply chains, automate our governments or educate our kids.
And no single individual, outside my family, has been a greater influence on my life – I am quite confident the same is true for millions of network consumers across the world. It’s probably less obvious to them as it is to me. You have defined for me what tenacity means. What integrity, courage and commitment mean. Inside of work, and outside.
Which is why I’m thrilled you’re sticking around for the next twenty years. To lend that confidence to the decisions I make, to help spot the next Chicago Project, and to send me the email boosts I’ve needed in the past, and I know I’ll need in the future. It’s not your fingerprints that will be all over our return to prominence, it’ll be your footprints right underneath it.
As I said before, we are in a rare industry – in which demand for what we build, for the technologies that power the network, will never cease. Not even the oil industry can count on that. We have the same vision today as we did back in 1992 – a vision that only gets more true as each day passes, and only gets easier to describe to your parents, and to an ever younger population that seems to know that vision in their hearts.
The network is the computer.
Thank you, Scott, you are a hero to us all.