Company Culture-Part One.


“Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

-Herb Kelleher, Chairman, Southwest Airlines

“Nice work, guys. Excellent. Good team effort all around. Go us.”

-Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, Iron Man 3 (movie)

There’s a great deal of information available today on the topic of company culture.  Experts are popping up with a load of advice, do’s and don’ts, how to’s and what not to do, and lots of insights and examples to share.

You might already have this topic mastered.  If so – congratulations – and don’t feel obligated to read on.  If you’re like me, however, and you take an interest in what others have experienced and what they have to share, please continue.

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several companies here in Silicon Valley since beginning my career in Operations nearly 30 years ago (yeeowwch- that long?  Really?)….in the mid 1980’s I joined my first start-up company (kind of before “start-ups” was a thing), and received a first class education in business growth, basic economics and most importantly, the art of working with others.

Company or “corporate” culture has been defined as “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.” (excerpt from Investopedia).

In my experience, I’ve found that a company’s culture can directly influence the company’s success, employee participation and retention, and external marketing and awareness of both their products and their organization.  The company’s reputation is often directly tied to the company’s culture as well.  And a thriving, positive and engaging culture can even attract a higher level of talented team members.

Having made such a bold and yet obvious statement about company culture, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what a company culture is not as well.  The goal is simply to share my view on the topic.  In no particular order:

  • Company culture isn’t something that can be bought.  I know there will be those who disagree, but come on people, you cannot expect that simply providing treats, great coffee or even full-time chefs (been there, done that) who provide meals to your employees will earn a great company culture.  It’s much more than that.
  • Company culture isn’t defined by one individual.  As much as I have come to appreciate working alongside some great human resource people and business leaders, corporate CEOs and small start-up company presidents, they cannot be expected to single-handedly shape and direct the corporate culture.  By its very nature, culture is formed by groups of people.  Remember the saying – “it takes a village”?  Very true when it comes to company culture.
  • Company culture isn’t developed in a vacuum (at least, not a good, positive and engaging culture).  Great company cultures are grown over time, they are cultivated, they are fed, and they are managed.  It requires active participation by those interested in such a topic.  There needs to be a conscientious effort applied.
  • Company culture isn’t a “cure all” for whatever ailment your business currently suffers from.  This might seem obvious but I’ve experienced this first hand in more than one environment- the erroneous view that “if we could improve our company culture, we would improve the bottom line to our business”.   It just doesn’t work that way in the real world.  While a great culture can enhance and strengthen the business through motivating its members towards greatness, it should never be viewed as a solution to systemic business issues.  There’s no guarantee with respect to this idea.  Business is still- well- “business” at the end of the day so to speak- the rules around revenue growth, marketing spend and profit margins still apply.

Well- it’s a good start. Part 2 of this discourse will include a closer look into what a company culture is, what it can do, and how to affect it and promote it in a positive fashion, so stay tuned.  For now, give some thought to your role, your influence,  in your company’s culture.  Thanks for reading this short prose- onward!

You Be You – I’ll Be Me.

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime (at least, for some it would be).  I was offered a role with the world’s largest social media company, working in a special business unit within the company, to be a part of a team that is building a suite of products that one day soon are going to be available and truly amazing to all.

I took their offer, and on my first day of employment found myself on a plane headed to Hong Kong to meet with other members of my global team.  It was a real head spinner, and the trip was only a week.  Week number two was spent on campus in Menlo Park, getting acquainted with more of the team and acclimated to the product, the product plans and the current status, partnerships and challenges.  For the next three months, there were meetings, trips, lots of planning and strategy sessions, cross functional discussions with key partnerships, lots of legal documents to review, rewrite and refine, and defining of yet-to-be-created processes.  All good stuff, working alongside some very bright, energetic and talented people.  And then I decided to leave the company.

Why?  Why walk away from something this spectacular?  This could have easily been the pinnacle of my career.  It was the largest employer I’ve ever worked for- in a very desirable work environment- surrounded by intelligent, motivated and enthusiastic coworkers- so what’s wrong with that?

Probably the best way I could phrase my response to these questions would be to answer with something simple- “it wasn’t right for me”.  Here’s the thing- to use an analogy, let’s talk about watches.  Yes, wrist watches.

Brands such as Rolex, Breitling, or Patek Philippe,  are known for their craftsmanship, and they are known throughout the world for making some of the finest and most expensive timepieces on the planet.  If I were in the market, and decided to buy a watch (I have too many watches as it is)- would I buy a Rolex?  A Breitling?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Suppose I did- knowing me, I’d probably not wear it.  It just wouldn’t be me.  Nothing wrong with the watch- it just wouldn’t suit my needs.  It wouldn’t feel right for me personally.   And I’m okay with that.

Same thing is true here as well.  Being a part of a mega company is a great opportunity for the right person.  The work could be rewarding, there’s a spirit of high energy all around, and the perks- chefs cook meals for you throughout the day (free), there’s a fully stocked “microkitchen” in every building with everything imaginable in it (free again), there are even free vending machines that dispense keyboards, mice, smart phone cables, power cords, ear buds, whatever you need- and on the main campus, it’s literally Disney-like in it’s layout and food and services offerings.  A couple of my older kids would probably love to work here.  We even had our own version of a free Uber-like service, where a car would pick you up at your building lobby and take you over to another building on campus whenever needed.  I could go on and on, but you get it.

So what’s my deal?  I‘m a true start-up guy at heart.  I’m underway now with another great opportunity with a small company that’s just starting to get off the ground and needs someone like me, with my experience and background, to help them grow and scale and get to the next levels of success in their particular industry.  I’ve been fortunate to work in several different industries, which, as it turns out, provides me with a great platform to help lots of different companies with their strategy, their partnerships and leverage my own network to help move them towards success.  I love what I do, and I enjoy the sense of reward and camaraderie that comes with working with start-up companies.  I’ve been fortunate in Silicon Valley, to have been a part of several successful teams and companies, all of which are still thriving here in northern California and abroad.  The “social media mega company” was a good experience for me, as it taught me more about myself and my values.  Although it didn’t work out as anticipated, I’m sure great things are ahead for the team I was fortunate to have been a part of – even briefly.  I’m anticipating great things next year as they get closer to launch with their new products (some very cool things in the works).

For me, I’ll continue to cultivate my passion for Operations and Supply Chain excellence, working closely with my new team- and injecting my experiences, my skill set and my personality into our business plans and future goals- we have some lofty ambitions here for the months ahead!