Last month, Andrew McNealy who runs Wayin in the Midwest (and 1871 associate member) called to let us know that Scott McNealy, the Chairman of Wayin and the founder of Sun Microsystems (yes, that Sun!) will be in Chicago. He wanted to know if we would be interested in hosting Scott for a talk here at 1871. Um, YEAH was our response. Absolutely! We’ve had some outstanding people come through 1871 in the past 8 months, but we were all in a bit of awe that Scott was going to stop by 1871 for lunch and a talk. I mean, the guy built an empire with technology that powers our daily lives, created 235,000 jobs and sold to Oracle!
The talk sold out quickly and 300 people showed up to hear Scott talk about what he did not learn in business school (Stanford) but learned the hard way building Sun. We were honored to have Rob Rutenbar, the Head of the top-ranked Computer Science Department at UIUC, come up from Champaign to moderate the session.
During the talk I looked around to see people in the audience taking notes feverishly, trying to write down every word he was saying. His wisdom in bullet points:
- Agenda Starts with Quality: Start every conversation and meeting discussing unhappy customers – making sure your customers are happy is top priority.
- Buy on Spot Market: Don’t get locked into any long commitments – the market changes too fast.
- Have a Cause: Building a company is more than simply making money, it is about changing the world.
- Define Decision/ Communication Process: Everybody should know what they are responsible for and how decisions are made.
- Board Matters: Who is on your board will drive what type of organization you run. Choose them carefully!
As for learning from mistakes, Scott spoke about things we heard before but it is powerful to hear it from such a successful leader and entrepreneur. His message was:
- Don’t get “stiff-armed from attending staff meetings” – going to them gives you insight into how your team perform and the culture.
- Don’t get distracted from the core value prop of your business- it is ok to buy versus making everything in house.
- Fire bad people early.
- Be careful not to put great people in wrong positions.
- Don’t go public if you can avoid it (well, this was a new one for me to hear!). Going public changes the organization and your goals.
This guy is funny! From “my (now) wife walked into my office and saw my face on the cover of magazines and asked if my friends did that for me…She had no idea who I was!” to “Last time I saw Steve Jobs he was sitting in his garden, under a tree, barefoot, reading a book on How to Build a Nuclear Bomb”. There were pics of Jack Welch, Steve Jobs and Donald Trump. There was the Heisman trophy, facebook on NASDAQ and the beautiful Colorado mountains (Wayin is based out of Denver because of great weather, high quality of life and low taxes!).
Our friends at Blackline Review also did a great video of the event.
It was another outstanding Talks @ 1871 session and we were honored to have Scott here.