Under The Sun

McNealy's Career

Smith:You give a lot of speeches to employees, investors, business partners and so forth, yet you've said you had a hard time doing this in the beginning. What have you learned making good presentations?

McNealy: I was scared to death the first time I spoke to the board, before I became chairman. And I was terrible. Fortunately, someone took me aside and said, "Scott, we want to get you into a speaker-training program." It must have done some good-I don't see nearly as many glazed eyes now as I did that day. I wasn't a natural, so anyone can do it.

Smith:What have been your biggest career mistakes?

McNealy: I've made plenty of mistakes-none I care to tell you about!-but that's to be expected. If you're not making mistakes, you're not trying hard enough. You're not stretching yourself. What did I learn from them? Not to make them again!

Smith:Well then, what's been the biggest positive surprise?

McNealy: Everything, literally. I feel very lucky to be where I am today, and I'm very proud of the impact Sun has had on the industry. We started Sun back in 1982 with the idea that computers should be networked-that they should be able to talk to each other no matter who made them. Pretty wide-eyed, idealistic stuff, I know. But we've come a long way toward making that vision a reality. That's a big positive, and, I think, a big surprise to a lot of people. When we started saying, "The network is the computer," people looked at us like we were nuts. Now everybody gets it.

Smith:Do you have any heroes in the business world, and, if so, what have you learned from them?

McNealy: I'd have to say Jack Welch, chairman of General Electric. We happen to share a passion for golf, so that's given me a chance to learn from a true master. Just to be clear, that's not a reference to golf, even though he's beaten me the last couple times we played! I'm talking about what he's done with GE. He keeps reinventing the company-and he does it with a focus on hiring and promoting bright people.

Smith:We asked Bill Gates this sort of question, and we'd like to get your response: If you were to leave Sun, what would be another field you might go into that looks exciting?

McNealy: To tell you the truth, I've never really thought about it. I'm happy right where I am.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Under The Sun.

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