Jonathan Schwartz: From Sun CEO to Health Care Entrepreneur of Innovation

Jonathan Schwartz, the last CEO of Sun Microsystems and the man who steered the ship when Oracle bought the legendary company for $7.4 billion, is turning his attention to health care. He finds that it's much easier starting a private company than dealing with an embattled public corporation.

When you're meeting with Jonathan Schwartz, it's easy to feel that the only way you'll ever be the smartest person in the room is if he leaves it.

There isn't a gray hair in Schwartz's characteristic ponytail, yet the 46-year-old software developer and business executive started and led his own company (Lighthouse Design) while in his 20s, was CEO of a major corporation (Sun Microsystems) by age 40 and helped engineer the tremendously complicated $7.4 billion sale of Sun to Oracle in 2009.

Along the way, he became the most credible enterprise open-source software advocate to other large enterprises, extolling the virtues of Java, MySQL, Zettabyte File System (ZFS) and other development tools. Without taking anything away from Bob Young or Marc Ewing (Red Hat), Linus Torvalds (creator of Linux), Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu), Brian Behlendorf (Apache), Monty Widenius and Marten Mickos (MySQL), it's clear that none of those visionaries ever ran an $11 billion corporation.

J.Schwartz.Sakuma.web.jpg

Schwartz (left) also gave the Japanese haiku new visibility with his tweeted resignation announcement on Feb. 3, 2010, about a week after the acquisition closed:

"Today's my last day at Sun. I'll miss it. Seems only fitting to end on a #haiku:
Financial crisis/Stalled too many
customers/CEO no more."

These days, Schwartz, who resides in San Francisco with his wife and two boys, thoroughly enjoys working in private companies, where he doesn't have to deal with quarterly reports, analysts, and pesky journalists and bloggers.

"It's a big weight off my shoulders [not running a large public corporation]," Schwartz told eWEEK. "It [working in a public company] can be madness at times, but you know that going in. You can move so much more quickly and easily inside a private company and get a lot more done without having to account to anyone. Well, almost anyone."

It's a good thing, too, about the weight being off Schwartz's shoulders-literally-since he recently had much-needed back surgery. "This back issue was partly the reason I'm getting into what I call the intersection of IT innovation and health care with Picture of Health," he acknowledged.

New Company in Stealth Mode

In fact, Schwartz now runs Picture of Health (currently in stealth mode), a health care-related startup. Although Schwartz and his San Francisco- and Seattle-based team remain tight-lipped about Picture of Health, he did say that more would be forthcoming in the first quarter of 2012.

"At this point, we're not discussing anything except that this involves the application of technology to public health," Schwartz said. "We are, however, hiring developers and designers and software development generalists.

"The Website is up to recruit developers, and we're finding some truly dedicated people. One of the things about having your own private company is that you get to pick whom you work with, and you really want to work with good people. That makes it so much more enjoyable."
The site asks prospective employees if they can build "highly usable Websites as well as engaging interactive controls for data visualization." This is speculation, but it leads one to believe that the startup will use interactive infographics to help users build an actual picture of their personal health-one they can use to track nutrition, medicines, health history and other key metrics.

Schwartz is also on the boards of Moxie Software, Taleo and Silver Spring Networks (see sidebar at the end of this story). Moxie CEO Tom Kelly was delighted to bring Schwartz onboard to his company, an up-and-coming enterprise and consumer social networking and collaboration service that prides itself on immediate usability and corporate scalability.

"Jonathan means the world to us," Kelly said. "You can't buy that kind of influence and experience for your team. He's very intuitive about things, and when he's got an idea, you listen. He's been there, done that and is well-respected. He's going to help us tremendously."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 10 years and more than 3,500 stories at eWEEK, he has distinguished...