I always point to Jonathan Schwartz, the pony-tailed 41-year-old CEO of Sun Microsystems, as the best example of a high-profile CEO blogger, or any CEO or senior executive blogger for that matter.
Why? He writes so well. He’s cogent, yet conversational. He’s gracious. He’s a creative thinker (note: there must be something about Wesleyan grads; my son is one too). He digs deep – and long – to tell us about everything from petabytes of data (storage – lots of it – is a major product for Sun) to the SEC’s rules on disclosure of financial information (and why blogs should be a recognized channel) to Sun’s evolving relationship with competitor IBM.
He’s also the only (public) Fortune 500 CEO blogger. Lots to learn from Jonathan on how a blog – any blog – should be written. Oh, and about the pony tail… Noel Hartzell, Jonathan’s executive director of communications, kindly supplied these details:
About the pony tail
“He’s had it since he and friends founded Lighthouse Design, a software company for the NeXT platform, back in the early 90’s. They all vowed to not cut their hair until they turned a profit… he’s had it ever since.”
– Noel Hartzell
Here’s a 10 question Q & A with Jonathan via email. He didn’t answer the questions in order so there are a few gaps.
Ten Questions for a CEO Blogger
1. Have you always considered yourself a writer?
Answer: I have always been a writer, but the blog has helped me continue to refine my communications skills and have an unfiltered, multi-directional and transparent dialogue with the community, which is invaluable and immeasurable.
2. How much time do you spend weekly on your blog and when/where/how do you write (i.e. blackberry, laptop, longhand, dictate)?
Answer: People always want to know whether I write blog entries myself, how much time I spend and where I write the entries. Let me assure you that I’m the author and I mostly write the entries in the evening sitting at my kitchen table.
3. What has been your most difficult moment as a CEO blogger?
4. Why don’t more CEOs blog? Lack of time? Fear? Inability to write well?
Answer: The best advice I have for anyone that’s considering blogging: blog only if you feel compelled to communicate in writing [the italics are mine], through the good times and bad, and to always be authentic.
5. What is the measurable ROI for your blog?
Answer: anyone reading, or writing a blog, will find an immediacy and an authenticity of interaction that is hard to create in any other way except during a face-to-face interaction. [Also see answer to #1.]
6. How important are Comments left by readers? Do you measure the success of an entry by number of Comments?
Answer: One of the great things about writing a blog is the participatory aspect of it. Readers in different industries, professions, and geographies have an opportunity to offer their feedback and lend various perspectives that we can learn from. And, yes, I do read all the comments, both the gruff and the gracious.
7. You’ve said that blogging will become mandatory for CEOs and senior execs, just as email has. Do you stand by that? Any further thoughts?
Answer: I believe that the primary role of every leader is to communicate. It’s true in every sector, public or private, and at every level. Through my blog, I can directly reach and cultivate important communities — employees, customers, partners, investors and developers.
8. Does a CEO need to use Twitter or Facebook or any of the other social networking platforms? Which ones do you use, if any?
No answer on this.
9. Is an open corporate culture a prerequisite for a CEO to blog?
Culture does matter — both the culture you’re a part of and, as a leader, the culture you’re trying to drive. Sun’s culture is known for its technological innovation, openness and particiaption — from the executive team and throughout the entire organization.
There are really smart people everywhere in our company and open communication and community participation are an important part of how Sun does business. Sun employees are our most passionate promoters and supporters.
They have unique insights into the strengths and advantages that our products, services and technologies provide. They are engaged with the communities, passionate about products, and they want to talk about them.
By reading the 3,000 or more Sun blogs, you can peer into the heart and soul of the company and see the passion and talent of our people.
10. What are your top three tips for writing a really successful CEO blog?
If you believe, as I do, that leadership is about communication then I can think of no more valuable tool. The Internet’s having a profound impact on communcation and leadership and more interactive tools are emerging every day.
But leadership isn’t about fads, so I’d advise folks to be crystal-clear on their goals and objectives, authentically participate in the way that works best to meet them, and steer clear of things simply because they’re fashionable.
Businessweek profile of Sun’s New Boss
Jonathan Schwartz on the challenge of finding his voice