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SUN MICROSYSTEMS: FINALLY SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE

Three years ago, computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. took almost a month to close its books after a quarter ended. Now, Sun CFO Michael E. Lehman takes only 24 hours to deliver preliminary figures to his boss, Scott G. McNealy--giving the chief executive a big jump on planning the next few quarters.

The secret of Sun's newfound speed? Practicing what it preaches. Until 1995, Sun's financial systems ran on incompatible software and hardware, so compiling results took forever. Now, all transactions are done on a network of Sun computers so everyone can share data faster. Says Lehman: ''We're spending more time managing forward instead of backward.'' Since 1989, Sun has cut in half the time it takes to receive payment after an order is taken. That has generated savings, leaving more cash available and reducing financing needs.

There are trade-offs. Outsourcing is tougher, because the world isn't run entirely with Suns. And Sun's auditors also need more help: When there's no paper, there's no paper trail. Still, Lehman now has time to visit up to 100 prospective customers a year. Just call him the CMO--chief marketing officer.

By Robert D. Hof in Palo Alto, Calif.


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Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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