Anxiety is the best word to describe the climate for mostly everyone here in Silicon Valley. An anxiety that continues to feed on itself as we near Christmas and the New Year.
This anxiety, however, cannot purely be blamed on the tragic events that occurred on September 11th. Although these events will now be indelibly rooted in US history and have impacted everyone's view of the world and the space they live in, this anxiety has been with us for sometime.
Anxiety has been creeping into this Valley for the last year, since it became clear that so many bubbles were about to burst in the technology environment as a whole. The Valley that had learnt to feed on optimism was starting to find the food supply running out.
This anxiety has speeded up rapidly since September 11th. The worry if your company is going to make it through the storm, the worry that the industry has peaked and now must decline. The worry that funding has more or less dried up for many start-ups. The anxiety for VCs centred around which new companies will succeed and where they need to channel their energies. The worry for individuals who were promised tremendous wealth, only to see it all collapse overnight as companies faded away.
Everyone is worried, from the real estate owners, to the hotel and travel industry. Everyone is in tune with the anxiety just as they were with the optimism.
Yet through all of this, the New Year provides a chance to focus anew. Some companies have gone back to their knitting and, with greater focus and clarity, seem to be in a position to weather the storm. Cisco is one that seems to have got itself back in shape, as does Intel.
Less sure of the outcome are companies such as HP, Sun and Compaq. Sun made a recent announcement that business was stabilising, but is reticent about making longer-term predictions. Uncertainty surrounding the HP/Compaq merger has impacted share prices, with both companies reporting a fall in price. Will the New Year offer further anxiety?
Anxiety is a new experience for the Valley, and out of this experience some will survive and others won't. But as with everything in the Valley, strength will be gathered simply because of the experience.
New business models will emerge, as always, in times of change and turmoil, and many will look at alternative ways of creating revenue. Terms such as corporate social responsibility are increasingly being used and are encouraging large corporations to look inward while also addressing the significance of how they are viewed by the wider public.
The focus on the customer driving demand, as with many industries, will increasingly become a characteristic of the telecommunications and technology sectors. The challenge for companies is to understand how far they need to go to meet those customer needs, while retaining a "responsible" and profitable business.
Hubert "Bert" Whyte
- Bert Whyte has worked in the telecommunications industry for over 30 years. His career kicked off at the old GPO, followed by a partnership with Terry Matthews and the then newly created Mitel Telecommunications.
Within a few years Mitel was sold to BT and Whyte made the move, with Matthews, to a small start-up, Newbridge Networks. From initial fledgling company, under Whyte's expertise international business turnover reached £100m within a four-year period.
In 1995 Bert moved to Newbridge affiliate ACC: the company which was the first to install a node on the internet.
Whyte overhauled the firm and presided over its now famous $400m acquisition by Ericsson in 1998.
1999 saw Whyte move again, to become president and chief executive officerof net.com.
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