Marcia P. Alstott
Vice President, Data Management Operations and Systems Infrastructure
For her outstanding contributions in manufacturing, engineering management, and business development in high–tech industry
Inspired by Innovation
Marcy Alstott is not a static person. Change, action, forward thinking, and innovation–these appeal to her. As vice president of operations for Sun Microsystems in its server organization, she is in her element on the cutting edge of the industry.
Alstott grew up in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, the daughter of a mechanical engineer. While developing a love of physics in the classroom, she passed her free time singing and dancing in high school musicals. When it was time for college, she chose Purdue and applied her interest in physics to mechanical engineering, a discipline she liked because its results were tangible. This interest was further confirmed by work in the Cooperative Education Program with General Motors. Alstott’s work in the Detroit area ranged from modeling suspension systems to a stint at the truck and bus plant as a direct labor manager– a college junior overseeing union staff. “It was a great opportunity for me to see what it was like in the plant,” she says.
“I rode around on a scooter in the vast plant in Pontiac and was amazed at the scope of the manufacturing that was going on there. It got me going in the direction of manufacturing.”
In addition to cementing her bond with mechanical engineering, the co–op experience taught Alstott that she ultimately wanted a work environment that did not have a traditional “ authoritarian” division between management and labor and that she wanted an employer that embraced innovation. She found this with Hewlett–Packard (HP).
“When I went out to California to interview with HP, it was such a startling difference from the automotive industry in terms of management structure,” she says. “It was very much non–union, with open offices and open management.”
Working on the Leading Edge
Alstott started at HP in May 1979 as a process engineer supporting a cable assembly line. By September, in addition to working full time, she was pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford University, paid for by HP. In 15 years with HP, her responsibilities–and breadth of experience–increased. Her work was usually in emergent areas such as computer–aided design in the early 1980s; managing production of the HP3000 computer in the mid–1980s; and as manager responsible for the new and released workstation products in HP’s then newly acquired Apollo Computer Corporation in the early 1990s. She also returned to school once again and earned an MBA at Santa Clara University.
Alstott left HP in 1994 and joined Chipcom Corporation, a networking start–up company, as director of manufacturing engineering. When 3Com Corporation acquired Chipcom at the end of 1995, she was made program director for switching products. Her achievements included driving–test efficiency, achieving ISO certification, and delivering a family of switching products through a fast–track development program.
In 1998, Alstott moved to Adept Technology, which had an international reputation for building robot systems for assembly, small–parts material handling, and test applications. In five years with that company as vice president of operations, she led the production, materials, manufacturing engineering, facilities, and information technology organizations. In addition, Alstott took over as the general manager of the semiconductor division as that business was formed within Adept.
In 2003, she was offered a position with Sun Microsystems, one of the leading database management companies in the world and a company that attracted her because of its role as an innovator.
“We break glass all the time in terms of technology and the way we use it,” she says of Sun. “I’ve always been interested in new business models, new technology. I like new ideas and risk taking. I like managing change and seeing things from the front row. I don’t like being bored.”
Piloting, Snowboarding: Adventure Beyond the Workplace
Outside of work, Alstott has satisfied this adventuresome spirit with a private pilot’s license and by keeping up with her children on a snowboard–she’s quick to admit that she is far more capable on skis. She credits her husband, Ted, with carrying a large part of the load of raising their three children, who are now 20, 17, and 15.
In her work as vice president for operations for Sun Microsystems, Alstott oversees some 200 people located around the world. When asked about her successes and weighty responsibilities, Alstott reveals the spirit that began to show during her co–op experience– a certain distaste for entitlement and a belief that success is truly a team effort.
“My success is very much dependent on the people around me and the opportunities I’ve had,” she says. “I’ve never succeeded just because of me. I get the most out of people around me and out of my organization, and every person in the organization contributes to that, no matter what the level. Every piece of the equation really works together; you can’t just have management.”
Reflecting on how far she’s come since her undergraduate days at Purdue, Alstott credits her advisor, mechanical engineering professor Robert Fox, who made this observation when she was debating job offers: “Whatever you do, you’ll land on your feet.”
MSME ’81, Stanford University
MBA ’86, Santa Clara University