Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz gave a great keynote interview at the Web 2.0 Expo last month. He was interviewed by Tim O’Reilly. The 30 minute-plus interview covered a wide range of fascinating business- and technology-related topics, not the least of which was business blogging. The first five minutes after the introduction concentrate specifically on how Schwartz — whom O’Reilly called “One of the most senior bloggers around” in terms of business leadership — uses his blog to reach both employees and potential clients.
Jonathan Schwartz accepts blogging wholeheartedly, but rejects the word itself. “‘Blogging’ will at some point be a little anachronistic. I communicate. My number one job as a leader of a company is to communicate. You used to communicate by being the celebrity CEO, you flew around and spoke with heads of state, and got local media to cover it, and got your message out in an inefficient and environmentally irresponsible way. Then the Internet came along and gave you access to the whole planet all at the same time. So why not use the Internet as a way to communicate directly and authentically to the marketplace? Then I will have satisfied at least one portion of my job.”
Blogging doesn’t just communicate with the marketplace, though. Sun’s CEO also uses his company blog to communicate with the more than 32,000 Sun employees. When they have questions about business decisions, Jonathan can respond to both the company and the marketplace via his blog. “If you are going to lead, you must communicate,” he said in the interview. “You can communicate in many different ways, through your actions, through your products. The way I communicate is by using the spoken and written word.”
Schwartz is a genuine blogger — he’s very much against having the PR people do any writing for him. But do they mind that they’re not in control of his message? “I don’t think I’ve ever terrified our PR department, but I’ve terrified our securities department once or twice, and they’ve been very quick about telling me to put in a safe harbor statement at the beginning of the post, and then they make an SEC filing based on what I just said, but now we’re very practiced about this and that’s no longer the norm. I can get away with a link to a safe harbor statement now.”
The CEO isn’t the only blogger at Sun — more than 4300 people at the company, from marketing and HR staffers to high-level engineers and managers have blogs on the Sun Microsystems corporate site. Some of them are in languages other than English, and many of them are fascinating not solely as an insight into the internals of one of information technology’s founding companies, but as a collection of smart people who love to share ideas about a wide range of subjects. “The most terrifying day for me as a blogger was when our general counsel started writing a blog,” Schwartz said jokingly. “Actually that’s not true — he’s very thoughtful. And guess who reads his blog? Other general counsels.”
The rest of the interview covers Sun’s MySQL purchase and the integration of two businesses into one, Sun’s open source strategy, cloud computing, how giving away products for free gives insight into the market and access to potential hardware and services customers, utility computing, the evolution of high-performance computing, the “black box” data center, efficiency and power consumption (“[electricity] is the number two expense, next to people”), and how blogging helps inform people about all of these issues.
If you’re a CEO, you’d do well to emulate Jonathan’s approach to business blogging.