On blogs and other items

Stephen DeAngelis

August 02, 2006

An article in the 30 July New York Times asks the headline question, “All the Internet’s a Stage. Why Don’t C.E.O.’s Use It?” by Randall Strauss.

Two years ago, when Jonathan I. Schwartz, then the president and chief operating officer at Sun Microsystems, inaugurated a blog that made him the most senior executive at his company to venture onto such a publicly visible platform, he embraced the risks. “Hey, life is short,” he wrote on the first day, as if he were about to leap from a plane. The title of that first post was “Head First.” Mr. Schwartz not only survived the plunge, he turned out to be a natural. In a voice that is refreshing in its unprocessed directness, he discusses big-picture trends in the computer industry, promotes Sun’s wares and tweaks competitors, and reports on the odd epiphany experienced while on the road or engaged in intellectual combat with industry friends and adversaries. The regularity of his posts, which blend serious content and an informal writing style, and their wide-ranging scope make this blog the apotheosis of expository writing: thought made visible.

When Mr. Schwartz was promoted to the top job at Sun this spring, he automatically became a member of an elite group: Fortune 500 C.E.O. bloggers. He is the only active member. Where is anyone else?

Before discussing the rest of Strauss’ article, let me take a crack at why there aren’t more CEOs in the blogosphere. First and foremost is time. Even as the CEO of a small start-up company the demands on my time are incredible. It doesn’t get any easier as your company grows. It’s one thing to write an on-line diary and quite another to try and provide sensible commentary on the emerging world. Keeping up on events takes more time than writing about them. Another reason that more CEOs probably don’t venture into blogging is that a miswritten word or phrase can needlessly offend. CEOs are in the business of generating work not creating enemies. I understood when I undertook this blog that it posed a risk to business. But it was a calculated risk and I’m passionate about what I’m doing. A public voice is necessary when you are trying to help usher in a new and better era that is not yet well understood.

It’s great when you find another voice like IBM’s CEO Sam Palmisano speaking out about the same things (see my blog on his letter to the editor of the Financial Times), and I agree that there are not enough of those voices being heard. Strauss point out the benefits of blogs:

Capital markets function as they should when the flow of information is strong and unimpeded. Mr. Schwartz has shown ably that for the chief executive sincerely interested in increasing information flow to the fullest range of stakeholders, a blog is a hydraulic wonder. Many companies, eager to claim that their dearest wish is to draw ever closer to outside constituencies, boast that they encourage blogging among employees. Microsoft, for example, says that it has more than 3,000 employees who maintain blogs on the company’s Web site, an impressive number. But a large company is an outsize elephant, and each employee works within a tiny wrinkle on the hide. Only the chief executive is in a position to sit astride the beast and share the widest perspective.

Our company is relatively small, but we have seen the value of having both the CEO and Senior Managing Director both maintain blog sites. In fact, it was our Senior Managing Director, Tom Barnett, who convinced me to start blogging. That anyone finds their way to this blog is almost miraculous. A recent article I read indicated that their are 50 million blogs on the Web with approximately 25,000 more being added every day. In the United States alone, the “Pew Internet & American Life Project, [reports] there are twelve million bloggers in the United States, and thirty-four per cent of them consider blogging to be a form of journalism.” [“Amateur Hour: Journalism without journalists,” by Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, 7 Aug 2006 issue] Trying to attract an audience when so many alternatives are available places a distinct obligation on the blogger to provide value added for the reader. Often this is accomplished by linking unrelated stories to show how the world is emerging. Sometimes this value added comes by promoting a point of view or vision aimed at making the world a better place. Occasionally, it means pointing out actions that detrimental to the greater good. Strauss continues:

C.E.O. blogging should no longer be viewed as extreme sport. Mr. Schwartz’s example shows that blogging fits quite naturally into the chief executive’s work week. In an exhortatory piece, “If You Want to Lead, Blog,” published in The Harvard Business Review last year, Mr. Schwartz predicted that “having a blog is not going to be a matter of choice, any more than having e-mail is today.”

“My No. 1 job is to be a communicator,” Mr. Schwartz told me last week. “I don’t understand how a C.E.O. would not blog if committed to open communication.”

I couldn’t agree more.