Silicon Valley is great at inventing companies, questionable when it comes to running companies.
Here are some companies here that appear to have what it takes to transform from an early stage idea to a real company—Adobe, Apple, Cisco, Oracle, Varian.
There is a list too long of companies that started out here, and have flamed out or been acquired. Netscape, Informix, 3Com, the recent Solyndra, too many others to name…
My thought is that we live and work in a place that is best suited for the early part of the business cycle, and utterly incapable of running things once they have taken off.
HP appeared to be an exception, and some years ago was able to develop people and processes that fostered both innovation and responsible stewardship of a going concern. For many years legacy HP employees created new companies, drawing from their inherent talent and their ties to a terrific “Mother Ship.” Those days are gone.
As a company in our home town of Palo Alto, HP has presented in the last dozen or so years an identity crisis that has confused the likes of Wall St., its employees, its customers and many of us locally.
This Valley attracts people who are very smart around numerous lines along technology and finance. Other parts of the business mix? My exposure suggests that those are in short supply and not valued here. Interestingly, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina both have such backgrounds…in marketing, sales and strategy. Mark Hurd did in a different way—his mid-west corporate experiences at NCR was very different from others' at HP’s helm.
I do have my unfavorable opinions about Fiorina’s tenure at HP, Hurd’s “pecadillos”, and my own questions about whether Whitman really has the right background to run a company like HP. I observe from the sidewalk nearby Page Mill Road a Board of Directors that has for more than a decade shown itself to be dysfunctional, be it selecting CEO leadership or agreeing to HP’s strategic direction.
That’s not really my point. Others can pick the CEO’s and HP Board apart.
What has me concerned is that we have a great talent pool here for early stage stuff, but we collectively are not doing anywhere near what is needed to keep businesses thriving here once they have achieved “cruising altitude.” The nature of the work is different when a company becomes a multi-national corporation, with customers and business lines that don’t necessarily value or create value by being at the cutting edge of technology. They still are great businesses, just different than what the SV culture seems to appreciate or cultivate.
It may be that we are what we are in SV, and to think that this place can attract and maintain the types of people who are good at running going concerns past the early stage is not a core part of SV’s DNA. If that is the case, we should accept it and recognize that what is happening at HP is a natural consequence of such an environment.
If it is not, or more to the point, should not be the case, this Valley has a great deal more growing up to do.