March 26, 2007
RISK-TAKING STRATEGIST “CRAZY JOHN” USES HUMOR IN SUN’S TURNAROUND
By Nicole C. Wong
San Jose Mercury News
When times get tough, Sun Microsystems Executive Vice President John Fowler tells a joke.
“He has a great sense of humor,” said Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim. “Whenever a situation gets tense, he has a great line and defuses it. The power of humor . . . is quite compelling.”
Fowler also uses laughs to win over employees who look askance at changes in corporate strategy. In 2003, he led the computer-server group’s shift away from solely using Sun’s proprietary Sparc microprocessors and Solaris operating system to adopting AMD’s microprocessors that could also run the Linux or Windows operating systems — a change some criticized as crazy. Fowler starred in in-house videos as “Crazy John,” a bug-eyed pitchman trumpeting a blowout sale on inexpensive AMD-based servers with the zeal stereotypical of used-car salesmen — and the tacky sport coat to match.
But beneath this gloss of goofiness lies a true technical strategist who loves debating engineers and has a knack for getting things done. Fowler has drawn upon all these attributes to help resuscitate the financially ailing Santa Clara company, and it looks like his unconventional approach is helping Sun close in on posting its first annual profit in five years.
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