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McNealy: "Sun Does Not Favor Mega-Mergers"

Sun's CEO and Chairman Holds Forth On His M&A Philosophy

According to Sun, its mergers and acquisitions – unlike Oracle's, Adobe's, and AT&T's – aren't quick fixes aimed at instantly growing its customer base. They're "thoughtful, strategic acquisitions that complement and enhance our historic strengths." Sun Microsystems, McNealy claims in a memo sent to Sun's customers this week, takes a different approach from the rest of the industry giants.

But hold on. Sun has completed no fewer than nine acquisitions during the past three years. McNealy points out as much in his memo. So what's so different between its approach and the approach of, say, Adobe/Macromedia, Oracle/PeopleSoft, HP/Compaq, and the pending AT&T/SBC deal? According to McNealy, it's this:

"Our team ... looks to acquire companies that will give Sun a strategic advantage in terms of intellectual property, new technologies, and human capital. We are looking for big ideas and bright leaders who will push Sun forward."

Still not convinced that this is any different from hoovering up companies merely to instantly grow one's customer base? Then how about this:

"Since our founding, we have acquired numerous companies, deals that have helped strengthen our server, storage, and software products and helped us develop big concepts like grid computing. Not every deal we've done has worked out the way we thought, but each acquisition was undertaken for a set of very specific reasons — needs on our part, and abilities and assets on theirs."

Refreshingly honest, huh? Sun's M&A philosophy, McNealy writes, is predicated upon a zest for what he calls "true investments," in terms of time and intellect and passion. Sun's interest is in companies "that have great technology and great people."

So it's not that McNealy hides the fact that, like all the other giants, Sun has become a consolidator in the market swallowing companies that it views will help it become "the technology infrastructure provider of choice to companies and individuals that rely on the network for opportunity." It's that he contends Sun's kinder, gentler approach to the process ought to earn it kudos.

Here is a list of Sun's "thoughtful, strategic acquisitions" in the past three years - which seem to add up to fourteen not nine as McNealy mentioned but hey who's counting:

Clustra Systems (networking)
Afara Websystems (chip design)
Terraspring (utility computing)
Pirus Networks (storage)
Pixo (digital rights management)
CenterRun (utility computing)
Nauticus (hardware/switching)
Kealia (2/4/8-way AMD Opteron processor products)
SevenSpace (services)
Waveset (identity management)
Tarantella (thin client technology)
StorageTek (archival storage)
SeeBeyond (business integration software)
Procom (NAS assets)

It's good to know that, in what Sun's chairman and CEO calls "an era of tech mega-mergers and acquisitions," Sun is so at odds with the prevailing zeitgeist of slash-and-burn. But Wall Street does not always reward long-term strategic management. And Sun shareholders are not wild with the firm’s sub-$4 share price. But McNealy, as ever, is undaunted.

"We currently have the strongest product portfolio ever," he declared in his memo; Sun's M&A efforts, he wrote, are in part what makes the company successful both today "and in the years and decades to come."

JDJ hopes and believes he is right. But Sun shareholders at its annual general meeting in Santa Clara just voted in favor of revoking the company’s "poison pill," Sun’s defense against any possible hostile takeover bid. A staggering 84% of votes cast were in favor of giving Sun's management this bloody nose. Defiant to the last, however - according to the San Jose Mercury News - McNealy said at that annual general meeting that he will work at Sun until the board asks him to do otherwise:

"I am working my tail off. There are no heels dug in here."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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