Whatever happened to Scott McNealy?

We know what happened to his company; Sun Microsystems was swallowed up by Oracle.

And Steve Ballmer? Well, he is the chief executive officer of Softwaremeister Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) with a market capitalization in excess of $200 billion.

And what about “Butthead?” Not MTV’s Beavis and Butthead, but the object of McNealy’s snide quip…His name is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet and a philanthropist. You may have heard of him.

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Sometimes reporters, editors, bloggers, analysts, investors bestow rock-star status on C-level executives. And in return, some of these very same executives earn their stripes in part by resorting to let’s say “provocative” activities or tactics. Are these antics, including old-fashioned name calling, in the best interest of shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and partners…the very same people for whom they have taken a vow of fiduciary responsibility?

“Ballmer and Butthead” is like catnip to the Fourth Estate Crowd, but is it really that funny when the company’s stock is in single digits and heading further south? How about concentrating on your business…a business that is now a part of Silicon Valley’s history.

Why even bring this matter up when Nasdaq: SUNW does not even exist anymore? That’s just the point. As difficult as it may be, C-level executives should be discouraged from engaging in sophomoric behavior and statements by their public relations counsel. The very people who you are denigrating today, you may be facing across a negotiating table tomorrow. Sun ultimately accepted $2 billion from Microsoft to end the protracted litigation between the companies. And Sun was desperate for the cash.

Certainly Scott is not the only former or present executive guilty of bombastic rhetoric, but boardroom deportment is even more important in these days in which literally trillions of dollars of aggregate personal wealth is being erased in just a matter of days, if not hours.

Personally, I would never offer investment advice to anyone and you would wise to not accept Wall Street counsel from me, except for one point: I never invest in companies in which I do not condone the behavior of the CEO. I am also very wary of companies in which the CEO and the company are synonymous terms…Hello Steve Jobs. What’s your blood pressure today?

There is no denying that McNealy is super bright with an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a MBA from Stanford…after all, Sun stands for Stanford University Network. Having said that, there is a difference between bright and smart: “Ballmer and Butthead” in hindsight was barely clever and not smart.

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I stayed away from investing in Hewlett-Packard during the imperial reign of Carly Fiorina. Her efforts to bludgeon the HP culture into acquiring Compaq left permanent scars. Her fights with the media, particularly the San Jose Mercury News, were undertaken without the prospect of an upside. She was forced to resign three years later as HP’s CEO. Last year, she ran and lost in her attempt to wrest a Senate seat away from Barbara Boxer in California. And today… (she just won’t simply go away), she is working with the GOP Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Another stock that had the effect of a crucifix to a vampire for me was Advanced Micro Devices or AMD under the notorious direction of Jerry Sanders. Brash and colorful, Jerry was the ultimate loose cannon beyond any kind of reasonable control by his PR handlers (probably too strong of a word). Jerry was going to say what Jerry was going to say.

There was the night that he concluded an annual Semiconductor Industry Association dinner with “We have come a long way since the days we were fighting the Japs (over trade access).” He is (mis)credited for inventing the term that “Real men have fabs,” prompting semiconductor makers without their own factories…or fabs…to establish their own trade association, the Fabless Semiconductor Association, now the Global Semiconductor Alliance.

And of course my all time favorite from Jerry: “Money is life’s report card.” Guess that means Mother Teresa really sucked at life.

When it comes to corporate excess, no one does it better than Larry Ellison of Oracle…The planes, the yachts, the mansions, the divorces…And how many people are unemployed in this country? How many are underwater on their mortgages? How many are afraid to open up their investment portfolios? Larry doesn’t need my money, but I have made a vow to never invest in Oracle regardless of the company’s financial results as long as Larry is in charge.

The bottom line is that C-Level behavior does matter. Some are willing to look the other way just as long as the company is doing well. And what happens when the sun starts sinking against the horizon and the stock heads south? The “Ballmer and Butthead” quotes aren’t so funny. As John Madden once said: “When you are winning no one can hurt you; when you are losing, no one can help you.”

http://www.edn.com/article/479110-Ballmer_Butthead_and_McNealy.php

http://www.cbronline.com/blogs/technology/best_mcnealy_qu

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_McNealy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Microsystems

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/07/carly-fiorina-senate-republican-campaign-committee-nrsc/1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Sanders_(businessman)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Ellison

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAAirNeKWxQ

http://www.motherteresa.org/

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