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Schwartz puts comforting arm around stricken Sun

Uses other arm for Oracle fist-pump

fingers pointing at man

Employees at Sun Microsystems concerned at the prospect of yet more lay-offs at the company will not have been comforted by a company-wide memo from president and CEO Jonathan Schwartz yesterday.

Only those in possession of Oracle shares may be heartened by the missive, which went to all Sun employees a few hours after Oracle finally prevailed in its battle with EU antitrust regulators, and got the go-ahead to close the $7.4bn deal. The Wall Street Journal quickly got its hands on the memo from the man who was at the helm when Sun ran aground.

Schwartz gave the obligatory "it has been an honor and a privilege to work together" rah-rah speech, saying that in his 20 years in the IT biz "Sun's people have always stood apart as the brightest, most passionate, and most inspiring", adding somewhat hyperbolically that he has "never had a bad day in my 13 years for one very basic reason - I've always been surrounded by the best and brightest individuals I've ever come across".

In reference to Sun's technology, Schwartz said that he once told Scott McNealy, one of Sun's four co-founders, that "he was the Henry Ford of the technology industry, making remarkable innovations accessible to anyone, and creating an immense number of jobs around the globe for those that made use of them".

While Sun has clearly been important in its contributions, the analogy doesn't work. The computer industry does not have clean analogues to the auto industry, although McNealy, whose father William McNealy was a bigwig and former vice chairman at American Motors, was fond of making some comparisons that made sense. Schwartz's doesn't: if there is a Henry Ford of the IT industry, it is not a person, but probably a company named Intel. (If it were a person, it'd be Bill Gates.)

The bitter irony, of course, in the comparison that Schwartz makes is that American Motors - itself an amalgam of companies and partnerships that struggled against the Big Three US automakers from the 1950s through the 1980s - eventually had to sell itself to number three, Chrysler. For most of the past decade, Sun has been the number four server maker and has run into such trouble that the top two server makers declined to buy it, and a software giant is going to have a go.

(Foreshadowing is how you tell the good literature from the cheap stuff.)

Schwartz went on to thank Sun's engineers, its sales people and its service personnel, and said that "like Oracle, we're an engineering company in our heart and soul, our potential together is limitless". This is where it gets freaky. Schwartz reminded everyone that he came to Sun through a 1996 acquisition and had been involved in lots of acquisitions since that time. (No kidding, and some of them were perplexing, others exasperating.) And this is Schwartz's advice:

From those experiences, I've learned one very clear lesson - the single most important driver of a successful acquisition are the people involved–and how committed they are to the new owner’s mission.

And the most effective mechanism I've seen for driving that commitment begins with a simple, but emotionally difficult step.

Upon change in control, every employee needs to emotionally resign from Sun. Go home, light a candle, and let go of the expectations and assumptions that defined Sun as a workplace. Honor and remember them, but let them go.

As for the many thousands of employees who won't be asked to join the Sunacle collective, Schwartz said it was a great brand to have on your resume and that with the economy on the mend, he was "very confident" the unemployed would land on their feet. And then Schwartz signed off thus:

So thank you, again, for the privilege and honor of working together. The Internet's made the world a far smaller place - so I'm sure we'll be bumping into one another.

Go Oracle!

Silicon Valley is a pretty small place. Given how many Sun employees have lost their jobs, with more set to lose theirs once Oracle actually gains control of the company, and Sun employees have all lost plenty of money as Sun's fortunes have waned and its stock has tanked, perhaps Schwartz should not be quite so cheerful about bumping into former Sunners. They may just knock him flat, particularly considering that Schwartz stood to benefit personally to the tune of $19.8m by selling out - sorry, selling - the company. ®

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