How Gray Is My Valley

The land of high tech suffers a wrenching mid-life crisis

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Not all the upstarts have surrendered. One of the best success stories belongs to T.J. (for Thurman John) Rodgers, the latest entrepreneur to serve as the region's enfant terrible. The sandy-haired, squarely built former | Dartmouth lineman remains bullish about the Valley's future. In eight years Rodgers has built Cypress Semiconductor Corp. into a $300 million concern specializing in high-performance specialty chips and featuring fanatical cost controls that include a careful monitoring of dinner tabs from employee expense reports (dinner limit: $50). "I don't think Silicon Valley has changed at all," says Rodgers, dismissing the gloom as "the lingo of losers." He adds, "It's the story of the Valley that's changed."

In Rodgers' view the future potential of the region should not be judged on the basis of the slumps being experienced by Valley big guns such as National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices, a collection of companies he calls "the dinosaur club." Rodgers contends that these firms have failed to stay hungry and competitive. As a result, they have led people to believe the electronics industry requires protectionist legislation and subsidies to survive. "We should not equate their lobbying as lobbying for Silicon Valley," he says bluntly. "This is still the center of the technology world."

For all the current woes, that distinction remains true. At the end of 1990, Silicon Valley had three times the number of jobs and twice the number of electronics firms with sales of $5 million or more as the next largest technology region, the area along Massachusetts' Route 128. While sales of computer hardware may be struggling, software is booming. Several software companies -- among them Adobe Systems and Symantec Corp. -- have lately posted record profits. But how much dynamism will remain in five years? With manufacturing moving out to cheaper areas, many locals fear that the Valley may simply end up as a research-and-development backwater. Moreover, at a time when American investors remain wary of committing to new companies, more and more Japanese companies are funding start-ups, which prompts worries that foreign ownership may eventually characterize the region.

Two decades ago, the notion that bucolic, orchard-filled Santa Clara County would become the world's capital of anything would have seemed ludicrous, especially to its residents. Sunnyvale councilman Stone remembers how concerned one of his campaign workers was in 1975 because her son had dropped out of college to tinker away in the garage. Stone advised Mrs. Wozniak to be patient, that the boy would soon tire of his pursuits and return to school. But Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer instead. "Silicon Valley snuck up on us," Stone muses. "Now it's a modern legend." But will the Valley remain the stuff of legend? All it needs is a few more revolutionaries again -- the kind who sort of sneak up on you.





1984 1991

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page