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1/27/2010
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Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Oracle-Sun Biggest Challenge Isn't Technology—It's People

Sun's founder and its CEO exhort Sun employees to embrace Oracle, and Larry Ellison promises miminal Sun layoffs. Can they make it work?

Saying that Oracle "is getting a crown jewel of the technology industry" and "will do great things with Sun," Sun founder and chairman Scott McNealy's farewell memo assured Sun employees that Larry Ellison "will do well with the assets that Sun brings to Oracle." It's a moving, passionate, candid, and funny memo—classic McNealy.

It's interesting to compare McNealy's message (it went out to employees last night and is posted in full below) with Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz's farewell memo to Sun employees, which came out a few days ago and was the subject of our recent post called Sun CEO's Farewell: Sun Is A Brand, Oracle's Your Company.

While the two executives both lavish Sun's people with praise for their great work and passion, each man takes a very different approach to how Sun employees should handle the transition from Sun to Oracle—and the parallel viewpoints illustrate the enormous challenge of successfully blending and even assimilating cultures in a merger.

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Here are the marching orders from the fiery McNealy's memo from below: "Do your best to support them, and keep the Sun spirit alive and well in the industry. Our children will be better for it."

(Thanks and credit to Cnet's Stephen Shankland for posting a copy of McNealy's memo as part of a thoughtful blog post from Shankland.)

Good stuff, no doubt. But note how McNealy refers to Oracle as "them," underscoring the us-them thing that acquisitions need to quickly and actively eliminate. He also urges—quite understandably, from his perspective—his colleagues to "keep the Sun spirit alive and well in the industry." Not the Oracle spirit, but the Sun spirit. But I think it's both fair and accurate to assume that McNealy meant not so much the corporate "Sun" identity as he did the innovation, passion, integrity, and generosity that he highlighted throughout the memo.

CEO Schwart's memo, on the other hand, explicitly directs Sun employees to drop the "Sun" thing and eagerly embrace the future as members of the Oracle team. Schwartz creates quite an image for how Sun employees should do that:

"And the most effective mechanism I've seen for driving that commitment begins with a simple, but emotionally difficult step," wrote Schwartz. "Upon change in control, every employee needs to emotionally resign from Sun. Go home, light a candle, and let go of the expectations and assumptions that defined Sun as a workplace. Honor and remember them, but let them go."

Interesting contrast, isn't it? And while surely the most important objective for those Sun-into-Oracle employees will be creating superb products and services, that brain-driven outcome can't be disconnected from their hearts. Are they Sun employees trapped inside a big and voracious outsider named Oracle, or are they part of the new generation of Oracle innovators hell-bent on changing the world, just as McNealy's memo chronicles?

On the other side, Oracle's executives realize they have created an extraordinarily big opportunity for themselves:

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