In 1983 I met with the founding team at Sun Microsystems on several occasions to discuss an OEM contract for the original Sun Workstation. Negotiating with the team was tough as they had never put together an OEM deal. At one point in a conversation, I asked them when they were going to hire a VP of Marketing so that we could put a deal together. Scott McNealy looked me straight in the face and said that as long as he was with Sun, they weren’t going to waste their money on any “marketing pukes.”
Recently I met a guy who had been a senior exec at Sun during its growth from $50M to $750M and he relayed a story to me that was quite amusing given Scott’s statement to me. In its earlier days, Sun, despite its growth and technical prowess didn’t get much publicity. However, there was a point in time during Sun’s heyday and Apple’s demise that a rumor was circulated that Sun was going to buy Apple. That rumor apparently generated a LOT of press for Sun including a mention on CNN.
My friend tells me that Scott got the 3,000 marketing people that worked for Sun at that time (quite a lot of “marketing pukes” indeed) together and berated them for their failure to perform. He noted that he was going to fire all of them since one little rumor had created more press attention than the 3,000 of them had accomplished and he could save a lot of money by simply spreading a rumor once a year.
And if that was all he wanted his 3,000 marketing people to do, he was indeed over-spending on that function. I trust after 20+ years that Scott has learned the true role of Marketing in a business. However, I haven’t talked to him in many years, and given the limited understanding of the comprehensive role of Marketing by many CEOs, maybe not.