Scott McNealy Biography

Businessman Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is a leading figure in the world of e-commerce and information technologies.


Born on November 13, 1954, in Columbus, Indiana, Harvard and Stanford alum Scott McNealy co-found Sun Microsytems in 1982, going on to become CEO soon afterwards. The company went public in the mid-‘80s and over time became a highly successful IT giant with its push for open network systems and JAVA software. Sun was sold in 2010 for billions, and McNealy has launched another start-up, Wayin.

Open Source Proponent

Businessman, computer technology. Born on born November 13, 1954 in Indiana, this pugnacious Midwesterner who helped found Sun Microsystems at the tender age of 27 has cast himself in the role of defender of the free computing world. With his fierce promotion of the Java programming language, he launched a threat to the dominance of Windows and Intel in 1995, and continues to attack Microsoft and its chairman, Bill Gates, at every opportunity.

"In a world without fences, who needs Gates?" is one of McNealy's milder verbal thrusts at the Microsoft chief. Long a proponent of open computing over proprietary systems, Sun tried once before to set industry standards when it permitted cloning of the SPARC microprocessor and AT&T's UNIX operating system in 1987. That attempt failed, as IBM and Hewlett-Packard created their own proprietary high-powered server chips and versions of UNIX. It remains to be seen if McNealy will win this time.

Early Life

McNealy grew up in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where his father was the vice chairman of American Motor Corp. As a boy, McNealy explored his father's plant on weekends, and rummaged through his briefcase at night, perusing stacks of business papers. But young McNealy's advanced reading didn't spark academic ambitions. He was an average student who devoted most of his energy to sports, until he surprised everyone by scoring a perfect 800 on his SATs. He raised his academic sights and applied successfully to Harvard University.

McNealy graduated with a degree in economics, and hoped to follow in his father's footsteps, developing a career in manufacturing. He dreamed one day of owning his own machine shop, employing perhaps 100 people and passing the business to his children.

Instead, he ended up on the West Coast. After rejecting him twice, Stanford Business School accepted him in 1978, and he graduated in 1980. He worked a series of manufacturing jobs, in plants that made truck hoods, motorcycle saddle bags, and Army tanks. He intended to return to the Midwest, but a romantic interest - and great golf courses - kept him in the Bay Area. The romance fell through, but McNealy stayed.

Founding Sun Microsystems

In 1981, a former mentor from Harvard asked him to manage the manufacturing arm of his computer company. A year later, while McNealy was still learning computer basics, a business school friend asked him to take charge of the manufacturing for a new technology company, and together they founded Sun Microsystems in 1982. Two years later, the founding CEO left and McNealy was asked to take the job, temporarily, while the board searched for anew chief. However, no other candidates outshone McNealy, and he took the company public in 1986. By 1988, the company was doing $1 billion in annual sales, and in 1995, Sun was named one of the country's 100 best-managed companies.

McNealy's sharp tongue and aggressive approach were tempered with highly successful management techniques. To keep morale high, he encouraged office high jinks, ranging from water-gun fights to high-concept pranks on April Fool's Day. One year, employees transformed McNealy's office into a golf hole, complete with water hazard and putting green.

Java Success

Whether his stance against Gates and Microsoft will save - or even change - the computer world remains to be seen. So far, McNealy's quest to promote Java has proven highly successful, and Java applets have proliferated on the Internet. Even Microsoft condescended to license Java, adding its own special extensions. Sun, however, has accused Microsoft of purposely extending Java in ways that only help users of Windows and Intel.

Under McNealy's direction, Sun has recently expanded its business beyond Web servers to storage products, wireless servers, and e-business software. In July 2000, Sun (in a joint venture with America Online) unveiled iPlanet, a unique software component designed to support commerce over the Internet.

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