Executive interview: Kim Jones, Sun UK managing director

As I wander across a wind-swept London Bridge to meet the UK managing director of Sun Microsystems, I cannot help but wonder...

As I wander across a wind-swept London Bridge to meet the UK managing director of Sun Microsystems, I cannot help but wonder what the next hour or so holds.

For a start, Kim Jones has not done many interviews since taking up the post in 2007, so she is something of an unknown quantity. She is also an American woman from a US company shipped in to head up a UK operation. How is that going to impact on the way she engages with Sun's UK customer base?

Jones has been at Sun since it was a start-up, and came to the UK in 2007 after stints in charge of global education and healthcare. Both of those subjects still resonate with her on a personal level, as does the green issue, which Jones was heavily involved with before it became fashionable.

Outside of Sun, Jones is a member of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, which brings together business leaders from major UK and international companies who believe that there is an urgent need to develop new and longer-term policies for tackling climate change. She is also a representative on the CBI's Climate Change taskforce along with 17 other chairmen and CEOs from some of the world's largest companies. But Jones was a green advocate long before it became the fashionably high-profile issue it is now.

"I first got involved in green issues and climate change about six years ago. Sun was into the idea of the green datacentre early on. Two of our biggest datacentres - in London and Farnborough - are totally green. Our green awareness is reflected throughout the Sun culture," she says.

One of the biggest uses of energy comes from powering buildings, so we have long encouraged people to work from home rather than drive or use public transport. Climate change is a big thing inside Sun. In the UK, we have been particularly aggressive about it and our achievements play out very well when you compare them with the wider UK climate agenda. In the US, we have been a leader in the campaign and Barrack Obama is going to raise the profile of the issue in the US."

Technology in education

Jones' other major interest lies in education. Prior to becoming UK managing director, she was vice-president of global education, government and healthcare, establishing education as an independent line of business for Sun. Beyond her corporate role, she has been active in driving policy initiatives, evidenced by her testimony before the Congressional Web based Education Commission in the US.

She is also regularly featured as an honorary speaker on the impact of technology in education at influential meetings around the world, including NCTET, Sun's Worldwide Education & Research Conference (WWERC) and other public sector symposiums.

Education is particularly important when it comes to getting more women into the IT industry, she argues. "One of the big issues is how to get more girls interested in science and technology at a younger age. We are working with partners, schools and universities to show what great opportunities there are in computer science or any of the sciences. We need to get kids of around 11 or 12 to understand mathematics and what they can do with it.

"We also need to explain to women that it is not just about being a scientist or an engineer there are other opportunities that women can take up in the IT industry, such as sales and marketing or operational roles. If you have the basic leadership skills, there are lots of opportunities for women in many different areas."

Citing Carol Bartz, former CEO at Autodesk, as one of her own role models - "She was able to integrate her personal life with her business life" - Jones recalls that her own entry to the IT industry was not an immediately obvious progression.

"I studied sociology and biology at university and wanted to get into public health - and this is where I ended up. I decided that I did not want to go to grad school at the time and I needed to get a job to earn some money. I was living in the San Francisco Bay area and technology was the big thing. Someone told me that IBM or Xerox would hire you and teach you how to sell, so I went to Xerox and ended up in sales. At the end of the day, I am a people person and I like change," she says.

Atlantic divide

Being an American heading up the UK operation has not caused any concern, internally or among customers, she says. "We are an American company in the UK, but Sun UK is very localised. Some 99% of our staff are from the UK or from other parts of Europe less than 1% are American. We try to run things with a local flair. We have offices all over the UK and Ireland, so we have a very clear UK identity.

I think customers can be happier to talk to someone from corporate. I can also get more people over from the US who make decisions, and I can get them in front of customers to talk. Since I have been here, Scott McNealy has been over three times. We also get people over who are in charge of product development and direction, and they sit down with customers. I always tell customers to be open and direct - not too polite the company is keen on getting direct and honest feedback on what customers expect from us."

It is often claimed that the UK is several years behind the US in terms of technology adoption and business, but Jones sees far more similarities than differences. "Compared with many other parts of the world, the UK is pretty close to the US not as different as Asia, for example, or even France and Germany. Both of our economies are very dependent on the financial services sector. People work in a similar manner," she says.

But there are differences, she adds, but with the scales possibly tipped in the favour of the UK way of life. "People here are more polite. I think people in the US can be more direct. You want things done, and done now, and then you are gone. In the UK, people tend to be more focused on building relationships.

"It is not just a case of 'what can you do for me now?' in the UK. That applies to customers and partners, as well as staff. People just look at things in longer terms. People are more willing to make time to meet with you. Something I focus on is communications and customer intimacy. People are very keen on keeping in touch and listening so they understand what we have to offer."

Great achievements

Looking back over the past year or so in the UK, Jones can see some particular achievements, both corporate and personal. "In 2008, I grew Sun's presence and market in the UK and Ireland. Sun became an active member of the CBI Climate Change Board, in addition to our four-year membership of the Corporate Leaders Group for Climate Change. And I felt very privileged to receive an honorary degree from University of Edinburgh in 2008.

Looking to the future, outside of continued work for Sun, Jones is adamant that education will play an enormous part in her life. "One of the things I have done on the side is start up a non-profit organisation with Scott McNealy called Curriki [which is building an internet site for Open Source Curriculum (OSC)]," she says.

"The idea of Curriki is that different children learn at different rates in different ways, so if you can collect content on the web from all around the world, then people can come in if their kids are having problems, or if they are shooting ahead, and learn for themselves. Some kids may not respond well to the way we teach maths in the US, but they may respond to the way it is taught in the UK or Singapore. Education is so important it is definitely something I will be involved with in the future."

CV: Kim Jones 
1987: Joined Sun Microsystems.

1993: Director of international industry sales development.

1999: Vice-president of global education and research.

2005: Vice-president of global government, education and healthcare.

2007: UK/Ireland president and managing director.

Prior to joining Sun, Jones held a number of sales, marketing and management positions at Wang Laboratories and Xerox Corporation.

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