Tom and Ross showed up looking like the odd couple. I was not in the board meeting for the following drama, but we soon heard the blow-by-blow from the people who were. It went something like this:
Steve demoed our brilliant new Workspace Manager for 20 minutes while Ross’s eyes glazed over. Here’s a clash I didn’t see coming: Ross was all about sales while Steve was all about product. Ross eventually put his hand up and said, in his fast-talking East Texas accent: “Steve, I believe you. You don’t need to demo to me. You have the best computer on the planet, just like you said. And Sun has the worst, like you said.”
“My question is why does Sun have sales growth that looks like this?” (Gestures up and to the right.) “While our sales curve is flat. Now, it seems like there’s one of two things it could be: Either that man cain’t sell a computer.” (Gestures toward Todd Rulon-Miller, our VP of sales, who went ashen.) “Or, our customer has a problem with our computer we don’t know about. Why don’t we call them and ask, if ya ain’t buyin’, why ain’t ya buyin’? If ya tell us why ya ain’t buyin’, we can fix it so you can buy it!”
“Which one of those is it Steve?” Apparently, it was a rare occasion when Steve was at a loss for words. I never spoke to anyone who knew what he was thinking, but he got up, walked out of the board meeting, into his office, and started doing email. We could all see that because both the board room and Steve’s office had glass walls.
Ross and Tom were left sitting in the boardroom and Ross started asking what just happened. Tom was saying “now Ross” in his slow soothing way while Ross’s speech accelerated. “Did the CEO of this company just walk out of a board meeting? He’s got my $20 million dollars! Does he not want me here? If I leave, I ain’t ever coming back.”
And with that, the man who was famous for for saying at EDS they went in to meeting rooms to fight, but they came out unified even if they had to agree to disagree, exited the room loud and fuming.
As they headed for the stairs, I saw Ross notice a shocked-looking young woman. He stopped, stuttered, and said (to the best of my memory): “Uh, well, you just remember! THAT man changed the world!!” (Gestures towards Steve’s office.) “There ain’t many people who’ve done THAT!” And he kept walking out the door, toward a run for the President of The United States. So much for my dreams of him fixing the IBM deal.