Zander is the operations and marketing whiz who has turned Sun into the favored computer supplier to most Net companies.
Now Zander is racing to make Sun a Net infrastructure company capable of keeping e-businesses running around the clock. That means Sun's technology will have to reach new levels of reliability.
Vision has always been Sun Microsystems Inc.'s (SUNW) strong suit. CEO Scott G. McNealy was saying ''the network is the computer'' long before there was any e-anything. But only after Edward J. Zander became Sun's day-to-day chief in 1997 did it become more than a scrappy industry rebel. Now, under his operational and marketing guidance, Sun is far and away the world's hottest computer maker. Its servers are de rigueur with e-businesses. And the 35% sales growth logged in its most recent quarter dwarfed that of top competitors IBM (IBM) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HWP)
Yet Zander, a frenetic Brooklynite, is hardly standing still. He's now tackling Sun's biggest challenge yet: to take Internet computing far beyond today's crash-prone standards, and make it as reliable as the phone network. He has already tied 30% of managers' compensation to customer satisfaction and is making sweeping changes to inject time-tested quality processes into all aspects of Sun's business. Rather than just book orders as fast as possible, now every configuration must be tested by Sun techies before the customer can take delivery. And he and other executives are being trained in General Electric Co.'s ''Six Sigma'' quality doctrine, to find other ways to improve. Says Zander: ''We're going to be a great company--capable of keeping up with whatever customers want to do with technology in this New Economy.''
Clearly, Zander could have the pick of many CEO jobs. But don't look for him to leave before Sun has accomplished its goal of making the Web as reliable as the phone. ''It would be a kick to run a 100-person dot-com, but it's also a kick doing something this significant,'' he says. Especially when times are so good. ''Five years ago, we were supposed to be roadkill for Intel (INTC) and Microsoft (MSFT)--and here we are outgrowing them. So if they didn't like us before, now they really don't like us!'' True enough. But keeping Sun on top against those odds is just the sort of challenge Zander relishes.