Sun CEO Among the Few Chiefs Who Blog
Saturday, September 16, 2006; 10:45 PM
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- At the helm of Sun Microsystems Inc., Jonathan Schwartz became "un blogeur" last week when he started publishing his blog in French and nine other languages.
Schwartz, whose Web journal attracts 50,000 viewers each month, says going international will generate new customers and attract prospective employees in Europe, China and elsewhere. That puts the 40-year-old CEO at the vanguard of a trend in corporate communications, one that tears down barriers between executives and the general public.
"The blog has become for me the single most effective vehicle to communicate to all of our constituencies _ developers, media, analysts and shareholders," Schwartz said in his Silicon Valley office. "When I go out and have dinner with a key analyst on Wall Street or a key investor from Europe and ask them if they've read my blog, they almost universally say yes."
Chief executives of smaller companies have already seized on blogs, and big companies are increasingly joining in _ despite the potential for disastrous backfires.
In its unfiltered form, blogging lets CEOs bypass the public relations department, journalists and industry analysts and speak directly to the public.
Executive coach John Agno said blogs can also cure the dreaded "CEO disease" _ the isolation that envelops a leader when subordinates become reluctant to disclose bad news or worst-case scenarios that might trigger a shoot-the-messenger response.
"Blogs are personal. They humanize the Web and keep CEOs in touch with what's going on out there in America," said Agno, head of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consulting firm Signature Inc. "People feel they can really have a conversation with someone who has a blog."
Thirty Fortune 500 companies are now publishing corporate blogs, nearly double the number in December 2005, according to the Fortune 500 Blogging Wiki, a collaborative tracking site. Technology companies like Amazon.com Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. were early adopters, but senior executives at leading industrial companies like Boeing Co. and General Motors Corp. have also embrace the trend.
Yet few company blogs are from the chiefs.
Schwartz's entries are often risque. In his zeal to tout Sun, Schwartz has crossed paths with the company's legal department, whose attorneys have asked him to include "safe harbor" statements on blog entries that discuss future business strategies and products.
How much time executives spend blogging vary, but few seem to update more than once a week. Some executives _ including Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey _ do little beyond posting excerpts from public speeches and press releases.
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz's "Fast Lane" blog includes entries from other GM executives and links to his favorite German and French auto enthusiast sites. Lutz's site has generated 10,000 reader responses since January 2005 and, along with a smaller GM corporate blog, gets 4,000 to 6,000 unique daily visitors.