STANFORD, Calif.-Walking into the big meeting room at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center on the Stanford University campus March 7 for the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research summit, the first thing one noticed were the comfortable-looking, overstuffed dark leather chairs on the dais for speakers and panelists.
Conferences never supply panelists with chairs of the type that normally are seen in lawyers' offices and judges' chambers. That was a clear reflection of who the speakers and audience were at this event-people such as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Comptroller General David Walker, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and a good number of the nation's enterprise CEOs and chairmen of the board.
Mostly, these several hundred well-dressed folks from all sectors of the economy were listening to messages of global and domestic economic doom, such as that the country is probably in a recession and that world markets are likely to follow. Overall, not exactly an upbeat series of talks.
However, later in the afternoon, a couple of CEOs from prominent IT companies-Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox-settled into two of those big chairs alongside master of ceremonies and SIEPR Director John Shoven and talked about how IT is doing on the global stage. Both of them gave impressive performances.
At a later date, we will have an extended interview with Mulcahy, one of the most impressive businesswomen in the Western Hemisphere. But this column is about Schwartz.
Schwartz-the only one I could find in the room with a ponytail, man or woman-stood out in this discussion with his simple but effective parables explaining how open-source software works. Thus, right before everybody's eyes on a world-class stage, he became a bona fide spokesperson for the open-source community.
Mind you, these are brilliant business leaders, but after three people used different terminology to ask the same basic question-"Just how do you make money by giving your products away?"-Schwartz decided to explain it in their terms.