Thursday, July 01, 2004

2004 SDForum Visionary Awards

I had the privilege of attending the 2004 SD Forum Visionary Awards last night, in Atherton, CA. This year's honorees were Craig Barrett, Marc Benioff, John Chambers, and Scott Cook. The event honors the "business leaders shaping Silicon Valley" and in some ways the most suprising thing about the event was that, after 20 years, people like Craig Barrett and John Chambers hadn't already been recognized by the group. This is more understandable when the "SD" of SDForum is dissected -- it used to mean "Software Developers" and it clearly doesn't anymore... Scott joked in his acceptance speech that "tonight must be the revenge of the suits..." but that is getting ahead of the story.

SDForum Executive Director Laura Merling was the MC for the evening, making opening remarks and keeping things moving. She seemed a little in awe at the powers that she had brought together on one stage. Not only was the list of honorees an amazing who's who of Silicon Valley, but each person was introduced by an individual impressive in their own right.

Yahoo founder Jerry Yang was first up, introducing Craig Barret. Amongst his praiseful comments for this truly great business leader was the observation that Jerry was "jealous" of Craig because Craig had received a PhD from Stanford (Jerry dropped out to start Yahoo). It is particularly interesting to note in looking at Barret's background that he joined Intel in 1974. Thirty years with the same company is unusual in our industry, especially today.

Craig used his acceptance speech to talk about American competitiveness. He expressed concern that we are not investing enough in education or in basic research. He talked about some of the things that Intel is doing to support education and he made an interesting comparison -- he pointed out that the US Government spends the same amount of money, $5 Billion annually, on basic science research, that Intel spends on semiconductor R&D. He joked, "and Intel is just not that big of a company. On top of Intel, there is Microsoft's R&D, Cisco's, etc..." Craig also took time to rib Jerry Yang, suggesting that it would be possible for Jerry to buy that PhD he was missing from Stanford and that Craig would be happy to negotiate with Stanford on Jerry's behalf.

CNet founder Halsey Minor was up next, to introduce Marc Benioff (who was not able to attend...). Halsey told a funny story about his email to Marc after the recent SEC troubles... "I told Marc to go into his back yard, dig a deep hole and throw his blackberry and his cell phone into the hole. Then he should fill the hole up with dirt again and out of this hole an IPO would grow..." But Halsey reserved most of his time to talk about the innovative Salesforce Foundation into which Marc has dedicated 1% of the company's profits, 1% of the company's stock and asked the company's employees to donate 1% of their time. This non-profit organization is dedicated to supporting tech educational projects in public schools.

Ex-Cisco employee, and now venture capitalist Pete Solvik introduced his ex-boss John Chambers next. Pete gave quite an impressive introduction for John, pointing out that when he joined Cisco as the head of sales, the company had just $70 million in revenue. His success in growing Cisco led to his appointment as CEO in 1995, and since then, John has increased revenues from $1.2 billion to almost $19 billion. When John took the podium, he picked up where Craig Barrett had left off, expressing enormous concern for US competitiveness. In particular, he spoke against the proposed FASB rules regarding stock option expensing. He said that Cisco has done an analysis of the real value of granted stock options against the proposed FASB expensing formula over the past 10 (or 20?) years and the analysis came out showing that the proposed FASB method would have been 300% wrong. He didn't say whether that was on the high or low side... He also talked about a commitment that Cisco is making in their 20th anniversary year to dedicate a cumulative 20 years of community service -- roughly 5 hours for every Cisco employee.

Finally, venture capitalist Ann Winblad introduced Intuit founder Scott Cook. Scott was his usual modest self, although in Ann's introduction she recounted a comment that Scott had once made to her that it should be an obligation to always behave modestly even if one didn't feel modest. It was hard to watch Scott be modest in his acceptance of the award without wondering if it was only an act that he had perfected. But Scott deserves to be immodest about his accomplishments, since founding Intuit in 1983. And he took his time at the podium to talk about leadership and one's moral compass. He closed his speech and the evening with a reminiscence from Harvard Business School -- he recalled that on his last day in one particular class the professor did not provide a case to work on but spent the time discussing moral choices that we make in our lives. The professor observed that many, if not most, of the world lives from hand to mouth and is sometimes forced to make decisions that they regret morally, in order to feed their families. But he pointed out to these soon-to-be-minted business school students that they had no such issue. They were the ones that were privileged on this planet to know that they would always have the ability to provide for themselves and their families. And so there was never a time when they should face a moral question and make the wrong decision. Scott posed this lesson to all of us in the audience as well -- we are the privileged ones, and we have no excuse for not making the right moral decisions in our businesses and in our lives.

A truly impressive event, and memorable evening. Thank you to Craig, Marc, John, and Scott for your leadership and inspiration.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Rational Exuberance

Perhaps we all remember Greenspan's prescient "irrational exuberance" speech made back in 1996, before he become goggle-eyed over technology as a productivity improver... With the latest 1/4% interest rate rise and general positive comments from the Fed on the economy, can we now expect a period of rational exuberance?

While I cannot say anything in particular about companies that are presenting here at MDV, I can say that I am feeling some rational exuberance myself - silicon valley inventors are at it again and the powerful combination of factors that make this such a dynamic generator of new technology and new companies are, I think, poised to unleash some very exciting new trends...

So maybe the long boom is back?