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Sun's Zander emerges at investment firm

Ed Zander, the high-energy executive who stepped down in 2002 after a long reign as Sun Microsystems' second-in-command, will become a managing director this summer.

Ed Zander, the high-energy executive who stepped down in 2002 after a long reign as Sun Microsystems' second-in-command, has resurfaced at investment firm Silver Lake Partners.

Zander, 56, will become a managing director this summer, Silver Lake said Monday. A job at an investment firm defies expectations that Zander would surface as a technology company's new chief executive. But the Brooklyn, N.Y., native said the position offers ample opportunity to pursue his ambitions.

"I think they want to make a mark, and I like that," Zander said in an interview with CNET

Zander said he likely will be "getting out of my area of expertise in computers," expressing interest in telecommunications, consumer technology and content industries. "There are areas of opportunity in some companies that are rebuilding themselves--even big companies."

Silver Lake specializes in helping struggling public companies that have long-term potential and in taking over divisions or larger companies. The firm was interested both in Zander's contacts and his experience with hardware, software and multinational operations, Silver Lake co-founder James A. Davidson said in an interview.

"He's known some of the partners for a long time," Davidson said. While at Sun, Zander worked extensively with database giant Oracle, where Silver Lake co-founder David J. Roux was an executive vice president. Zander also was involved in work with venture capitalist Roger B. McNamee, another Silver Lake co-founder.

Zander announced his retirement from Sun a year ago and left in July, the most significant of several top executive departures at the Santa Clara, Calif.-based server maker in 2002.

Zander worked at Sun for 15 years. The last four were spent as chief operating officer, where he merged semi-independent Sun divisions called "planets" into a more unified company. Once the chore was done, Chief Executive Scott McNealy argued that he no longer needed a middleman to oversee the divisions.

"I had a lot of things come my way," Zander said about the period after his departure from Sun. A CEO position was indeed the first thing he thought of. "I took six to nine months and really made myself not make a decision. As I got further away from Sun and the operational work, I said, 'I'm not sure I want to do that again.'"

Silver Lake Partners was founded in 1999 "under the assumption that the technology industry would go through some kind of maturing restructuring," Davidson said. That indeed came to pass when the Internet mania evaporated, corporations drastically curtailed their spending, and a recession hit.

Silver Lake led a complicated buyout of drive maker Seagate--at a time when hard drive makers were struggling--and was involved in its subsequent initial public offering.

"We invested in disk drives when everybody thought they were old hat," Davidson said. More recently, the company invested in Flextronics, a large but struggling contract manufacturer, and in bankrupt telecommunications giant MCI.

Zander didn't rule anything out when asked whether he might soon end up in charge of one of the companies Silver Lake invests in. "I've had only four or five jobs in my career. I don't do things lightly. But you never know," he said.

Zander might not be working for Sun anymore, but he still lunches with McNealy and is quick to defend the company. "I think they'll surprise people. There's been a lot of mixed press, but they have a good strategy and cash in the bank," he said.