This past weekend, the Saturday Interview in the business section of the NY Times focused on Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun. Over the course of a single column, Schwartz shared more insight into the evolving media world (and how businesses should work) than most other CEO I have seen in recent past. Among his gems is the (sadly) rare understanding the lawyers only provide legal advice, but they don’t make the business decisions, unless you let them. How many great ideas have we all seen die because businesspeople have taken legal advice as gospel and refused to question it? The headline of the NY Times piece quips, "Sun’s Chief Doesn’t Fear the Snarky." Take this along with Schwartz’s nuanced view of how to properly use legal advice, and there is an interesting point emerging. Could it be that the simplest reason why we are not seeing more organizations embrace social media comes down to fear of snarkiness and fear of lawyers?
To be realistic, these are some very serious downsides. Getting sued is pretty high on the list of things that every CEO wants to avoid, and just below that (or at least on the list) is bound to be getting skewered by snarky criticism. Yet Sun is paving a path worth noticing, if not following. They currently list more than 2700 employee bloggers, including the CEO. They are tapped into their customers and their product line and innovations reflect this dialogue. They are not mired by ethical controversies as many peer organizations are, and they are experiencing a resurgence by taking a different approach to marketing right from the top. When asked about purchasing land in Second Life, Schwartz noted:
I’m not going to advertise during the Super Bowl. What a waste of money. Where am I going to advertise? I’m going to buy land in Second Life.
If Schwartz’s mission of positioning Sun as a "new media company" is to be believed, he’s one CEO that seems to have his company (and himself) heading in the right direction. For those seeking a model for the new Social Media CEO, Jonathan Schwartz just might be it – even if he’s not the only one avoiding the Super Bowl this year. He’s officially on my list of top ten people I’d like to meet someday.