It's Good to Be the Boss
The folks in the corner offices--big titles, big paychecks, big personalities--always make great copy.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – [Sun CEO] McNealy is best known for virulent, colorful, often highly ad hominem criticisms of what he calls "Bill Gates' centrally planned economy." At a recent public appearance, he snidely referred to the Microsoft founder and his chief lieutenant, senior vice president Steve Ballmer, as "Ballmer and Butt-head." For better or worse, the snottiness is not likely to change.

-- "Javaman: The Adventures of Scott McNealy. Today's Episode: His Fight to Save the World Wide Web From the Evil Empire," Oct. 13, 1997

Fifty years ago a man made his hundred thousand. A generation ago he made his million. Now a few of them have made, or are about to make, their billion. A billion has become a possible fortune.

-- "Billions," February 1930

America's Most Successful Merchant

The plane pops out of a cloud, and Sam [Walton] spots the airstrip. He grabs the levers to adjust the throttles and fuel mix as we swoop groundward. "We never could've put all this together without these airplanes," he says over the roar, proudly noting that he bought this particular plane secondhand from some bankrupt investment banker.... His landing is matter-of-fact and perfect. He taxis over to the little shed where several Wal-Mart "associates" await his arrival.... One woman in the greeting party loses her composure when she sees that Sam really is here.... Her jaw drops as if to catch flies, and by way of greeting the chairman when he steps off the plane, she says over and over, "We're just dumbfounded. We're just dumbfounded."

--Sept. 23, 1991


Picture a room in California. In the middle of the big room, in a big chair, sits a big man. He has a long face like a horse, a thick neck, big clumsy bones, and when he turns to look at you his ice-cold blue eyes bore into your soul. On the priceless carpet at his feet there are spread six newspapers worth altogether from twelve to eighteen cents.... The old man--he is seventy-two--is hanging over them with a big black pencil in his hand. Every so often he reaches down and makes a cryptic black mark. Though you cannot hear the presses, he can.... His job is to put the news before the public in headlines and swift leads, to make them laugh and cry, to excite them, and to do this at any cost with greater effect than any other paper that this public can buy. All of which is just as automatic to the big man in the big chair as is the crouch of a cat in the jungle.

--October 1935

"You're not getting inside my head," [Lou Gerstner] snarled when I introduced myself. Months later, to the question, "Where does your ambition come from?" he replied, with characteristic brusqueness, "I have no idea. I'm left-handed. Where did my left-handedness come from?"

-- "The Holy Terror Who's Saving IBM," April 1997


Michael Dell

■ The life of the poor, scrounging student was not what Dell had in mind for college so, he says, "I began reselling IBM PCs on a less-than-casual basis." Soon he dropped out to found PC's Limited in Austin, Texas. He has since brought out his own inexpensive clones of the IBM PC, AT, and XT. This fiscal year Dell, who is 21, says revenues will surpass $80 million. He plans to design and manufature faster and cheaper machines and to sell about 25% of the two-year-old company to the public at the turn of the year (he now owns it all). PC's Limited is not Dell's first venture. When he was 12, he got a tax permit from the state of Texas to resell stamps and baseball cards.

--Sept. 15, 1986

Research by Kate Bonamici and Chris Zappone