by Jerry Gregoire

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Scott McNealy of Sun Microsustems Inc.

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Chairman, President and CEO

Sun Microsystems Inc.

When this reporter first heard Sun’s slogan, “The network is the computer,” I’m not sure I got it. Now everybody gets it. Over the years, Scott McNealy, 47, Sun’s visionary and intemperate CEO, has said a lot of things?perhaps more hair-raising things than any other chief executive in the industry?garnering piles of publicity with his contrary opinions, prescient insights and very public jabs at Bill Gates and other rivals.

In 1982, McNealy started Sun (Stanford University Network) Microsystems at the age of 27 with three colleagues and $15,000 borrowed from his father, then vice chairman of the now-extinct American Motors Corp. McNealy had attended Harvard, his father’s alma mater, after scoring a perfect 800 on the math half of his SATs. He graduated in ’76 with a degree in economics, then worked as a foreman at Rockwell International until he was accepted into the Stanford Business School in ’78. After a brief stay at FMC, a manufacturer of armored vehicles, and then at Onyx Systems, a microprocessor company (the sum total of his experience in high-tech), he started at Sun as the vice president of manufacturing. McNealy became CEO two years later.

By the early 1990s, McNealy had taken Sun from a pureplay workstation supplier to a server company and introduced Java, which weakened Microsoft’s Internet dominance. Sun stormed into the high-end server market in ’97, taking its market share in Unix servers from zero to 36 percent by 2000, an astonishing achievement for a company being sandwiched by Microsoft, IBM and Intel. Today, Sun is putting more emphasis on software, services and storage, a change meant to diversify the company’s revenue to better withstand the sharply reduced corporate demand for high-priced servers. Anyone who wonders whether this will work should remember that McNealy, a hypercompetitive amateur hockey player and top-ranked golfer among CEOs, has been able to reinvent Sun many times and in the process provide us with some truly revolutionary technology.