Jonathan Schwartz's tweeted haiku was a nice touch, but it shouldn't be his last word, or 140 characters, on the setting of Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley.
Jonathan Schwartz’s tweeted haiku was a nice touch, but it shouldn’t be his last word, or 140 characters, on the setting of Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley.
Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/CEO no more, Schwartz messaged upon his departure.
After weeks of talk about synergies and the plan going forward, the true meaning of Oracle’s purchase of Sun for the 1,000 or so workers being laid off has became painfully clear. Their haiku?
State unemployment/over 12 percent today/Losing health insurance soon.
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Silicon Valley has spawned all sorts of popular myths, one being that employees are free agents, that they can flit from job to job, looking for the biggest challenge and the best deal. It was never entirely true, of course, and it certainly isn’t true now with staggering unemployment and big companies exporting jobs to cheaper markets.
Even so, Schwartz, the former Sun CEO, leaned on the myth when he wrote a note in late January marking the end of Sun and bidding goodbye to Sun workers who wouldn’t be moving to Oracle.
“For those that ultimately won’t become a part of Oracle,” he wrote to employees, “this will be the first step in a new adventure.”
It will be an adventure, all right. Maybe more of an adventure than many want. And what are the second and third steps in the new adventure? Food stamps? Foreclosure?
The truth is there is a disconnect in Silicon Valley between those who run the companies and those who work in them. It’s not new or peculiar to Sun, but as we celebrate the valley’s ability to lure the best and the brightest and to develop the technology of tomorrow, we sometimes lose sight of the working stiff. Or the working mother with a new baby. Or the loyal, 50-something worker suddenly out of a job.
Schwartz, who announced that he’s leaving Sun/Oracle, will depart with $12.8 million in severance, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That doesn’t include any nest egg he’s managed to put away while running the place. The company will pay his health-insurance premiums for two years, the filing says.
Sun Chairman Scott McNealy will receive $10 million if he doesn’t catch on with Oracle. (And can you actually imagine a corporate headquarters big enough to accommodate the egos of both McNealy and Larry Ellison?) That’s on top of the tens of millions he made as Sun’s CEO. He’ll get health insurance, too.
The typical severance package for those laid off? Oracle declined to answer my questions, but a memo distributed to laid-off workers indicates Oracle will give them a maximum of three months of pay and cover a maximum of two months of health insurance, in some cases less. Keep in mind this comes at a time when 41 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months.
Let the adventure begin.
Granted, there is no good way to lay people off. And a company is about making money, not about making its former workers’ lives easier. But there is a way McNealy and Schwartz could make this bitter end better for those who lost their jobs.
It was done once before when Oracle gobbled up PeopleSoft, a company known for treating its employees well.
In 2005, PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield took some of his personal fortune and created a fund that would provide grants of up to $10,000 for laid-off employees in need. He set aside $10 million for the cause.
If Schwartz and McNealy each chipped in $5 million, they’d still walk away with seven-figure packages, even after taxes. Not bad. And the fund would be big enough to give each laid-off Sun worker $10,000, if need be. I tried but was unable to reach Schwartz and McNealy for comment.
No, executives usually don’t do this. But in his own memo to employees marking the end of Sun’s run, McNealy wrote about how Sun “enjoyed breaking the rules of conventional wisdom and archaic business practice.”
And he wrote something else, too.
“I could go on for a long time reminiscing about the good and great stuff we did at Sun, but just allow me one last one. We shared.”
Now would be a good time to try that one again.
Mike Cassidy is a columnist with the San Jose Mercury News.