McNealy: I would have run HP if they'd asked me

The former chairman and CEO of Sun was among the candidates passed over for Meg Whitman

Scott McNealy, the former chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems, would have accepted the job of running Hewlett-Packard if he had been asked, he said this week.

McNealy was among the candidates interviewed for the position, he said, in a contest that ultimately went to Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay.

"I was asked to come interview, and I told them I would do the job if they couldn't find a suitable candidate," McNealy said Wednesday in an interview at his home in Silicon Valley.

"Their office is three miles from my house. I know the business, I have an army of Sun people who would have come helped me," he said.

Running HP wasn't something he was necessarily keen to do, however.

"I'd given up a very good job six years earlier," McNealy said, referring to his departure as CEO of Sun Microsystems in 2006. But he would have accepted the job, partly out of "a sense of loyalty to the Valley," he said.

The HP board has faced criticism for its CEO decisions in recent years. It pushed out Mark Hurd last year following a scandal triggered by a sexual harassment claim, and appointed Leo Apotheker, a former SAP executive who had a mixed record at that company.

The choice of Whitman, who had no experience running a big hardware company, also raised some eyebrows. McNealy has publicly backed her, however, saying she will bring "much-needed stability" to the role.

McNealy, 56, co-founded Sun in 1984 and was its top executive for 22 years, making him one of the longest-serving CEOs in Silicon Valley history. He was replaced as CEO by Jonathan Schwartz and moved into the role of Sun chairman until the company was acquired by Oracle.

"I lasted about two days" after Oracle acquired the company, he said Wednesday.

McNealy built Sun into a multibillion-dollar business, profiting handsomely from the sale of its Unix servers during the dot-com boom. Under his leadership, however, Sun reacted slowly to changes in the IT market, and Sun's fortunes declined as Intel-based servers and open-source software climbed in popularity.

On Wednesday, McNealy launched a new company, a social gaming startup called WayIn, where he is chairman and lead fundraiser. He is also a board member of Curriki, a nonprofit that makes textbooks and other educational materials freely available online.

Asked if the HP job might not have been a challenging one, he said: "It would have been a lot easier a year ago."

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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Tags business issuespersonnelSun MicrosystemsHewlett-Packard

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