Advice from the Best

I was in Ireland last week with a group of Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists when a chapter from the past came to mind. It concerned the groundbreaking for a new venture launched in Ireland in 1988 by a Silicon Valley pioneer, the venerable Intel, which I attended along with a group of Irish leaders, the American Ambassador, and the eminent Dr. Gordon Moore. It was to be the beginning of what would become the roaring Celtic Tiger that transformed that small island. Intel would rise as the model for Silicon Valley’s rapid expansion in Ireland and Europe. It was good for Ireland and good for our Valley.

Following that meeting, a friend of mine sent me a speech by Craig Barrett, Intel’s chairman and the talented successor to the giants, Moore and Noyce, and he gave some of the best advise that I believe San Jose could receive at this critical juncture in our history. It goes like this: ” At Intel, we worry about what we can control. We can’t control the world economy, but we can control our level of investment in research and development and new products.”

This is exactly the attitude and approach that San Jose needs in very tough times, and we should learn from the best.

Our investments as a city must be prudent. We must be innovative. We need to monitor how we spent money in our investments, and as importantly, where we spent it. One emphasis must become investment in job creation where putting our dollars prompts others to invest. 

Our R&D budget must be focused in our Redevelopment areas, Downtown, and in the sales tax-producing areas of our local economy—major shopping centers and nodules of commercial activity must be primed. This can be accomplished in a number of ways—telescoping incubator space investment, sponsorship of corporate expansion, and assistance to the backbone of our economy, our small businesses. Keep pushing new products and new ideas is the mantra for San Jose. Be bold.

Choices must be made.

It is time to analyze how many capital facilities, parks, libraries, community centers, we can support with a budget that is greatly stressed. This is a key decision, along with prudent investments of merit that must occur. It is not a time for business as usual. Look at the many changes that Intel has made in an ever-changing world of adapt-or-perish that is our entrepreneurial valley.

We cannot control the world economy, nor can we decide monetary policy. The way things have been going lately, I wonder if anyone is in charge. But if that is the condition, how much more important to take the admonishment of Barrett with the greatest of attention. Invest where we can with our own resources; don’t wait for others to bail us out; don’t grumble about the fates; sweep up in front of your business; keep putting one foot in front of the other. These are the toughest of times and we are the most resilient of valleys. Let’s adapt and keep it that way.

15 Comments

  1. Tom,
      Right on Guy!!! Another year of budget deficits…must give Hays Mansion another $5million bail out, but not to worry.We can cut the police department again, who needs cops.We can cut the Fire Department,they take all the fun out of watching a building burn down…that a boy Tom!

  2. Enough with the corporate welfare that we euphemistically call “investments”. These “investments” have brought San Jose to the brink of bankruptcy.
    Out here in Undowntownland there’s a sense that there is no City Government. And you’re calling for further cutbacks in the very basics for which City Governments exist in the first place?

  3. By any measure, it appears that basic city services are beyond our control.  Expected services like road maintenance, trimming of city-owned trees and street sweeping are rapidly becoming memories of the good old days.  The trade-off:  investments in things that have little bearing on our lives, e.g., a “vibrant Downtown!”

  4. Tom—Great cheerleading, as usual, but what about the inability of Chuck’s Council to make any dough on the empty ground floor space reserved for “labor peace”? No mention of the fact that, aside from Pete Constant, no one, including Chuck, is willing to take on the investment-killing stranglehold of the unions. Hayes Mansion, the golf courses all continue to be “investments” that keep the SEIU employers in cigars. Even the White Elephant CH “dome” in the dirt downtown, now making “money” as a wedding venue (though yearly income won’t even pay for the $700,000 machine for washing the windows in the lifetime of the building)cost what it did because of all the “make work” that went into it. No sign of any relief from union oppression downtown or anywhere else. And Nora now to be “Vice Mayor”, whatever that means except that Chuck hopes appeasement might work. George Green

  5. Louie – this is well below some of your past comedic efforts. The fact that it bears no relationship to my article is merely interesting.  TMcE

  6. I’m not sure that the Irish would agree that being a Celtic Tiger was such a great thing after all.

    Ireland has gone from being relatively affordable to the most expensive country in Europe. The Irish spent their windfall taking out mortgages on spanking new megamansions, paving over farmland in the best Silicon Valley style, and turning their cosy family pubs into purveyors of fine dining experiences.

    The Irish people I know tend to think that they are not much better off now with the financial wreckage of all that than they were before, while their own culture, which was something they had before the Celtic Tiger, has taken a big hit.

    Moral for us? We need to keep in mind what will be the most benefit for the community. Library use is way up already because of the economy. Parks and community centers will also be vital for low-cost recreation.

    Street sweeping and even road maintenance can be cut back without affecting our personal stress levels. But closing libraries and parks takes away our sources of mental relief.

    Lesson from Ireland: the nicest parts of Ireland to visit are the ones with the worst roads.

  7. 10 MHz,
    We are probably talking about friends from different generations, but if it wasn’t for the Celtic Tiger economy then the young Irish professionals I know wouldn’t be living there today.  They would have emigrated in large numbers like nearly every generation before them.  That isn’t to say there aren’t costs and growing pains associated with that much growth, but I’d say the benefits far out-weigh them.

  8. Dear 10MHzDays – nice post. I can not disagree w. your analysis of much of the consumerism that has run rampant in Ireland in the last two decades. There are many members of their young population that never knew much of poverty, and, of course, the days of famine, coffin ships, economic wars w. England, and lines to emigrate are NOT EVEN a memory. Like in the US, young people know little of their history. With all that said, to see prosperity and an end to the horrible saga of the Irish Diaspora, was wonderful. It made me feel very good to play a role in it. Times are going to be very tough in Ireland and around the globe, and there will be many second thoughts, for sure, but the Irish have – as you note – a strong tradition of writers and thinkers and dreamers that can help bridge a mighty gap. Again, that was a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post.  TMcE

  9. Sorry, MHzDays, but Jason is on the right point here. Ireland was the exporter of people, enriching the world but leaving that island, depressed and depressing. To see the cycle of poverty reversed, and know that San Jose and Silicon Valley played a key role in the change, should make all of our feel better; it does me. To understand Irish history, is to know that the last decade and one half have been one of unparalleled prosperity, something that few Irish of our grandparents generation could imagine.  TMcE

  10. Dealing with the ‘unknown unknowns’ is the very essence of politics.

    Intel can focus on ‘what they control’ because in the grand scheme of things, they have only three things to worry about: technology, production cost, and price. There is a myriad of factors, but their end job is to SELL PROCESSORS.

    How about the Department of Homeland Security? We need them to be thinking about what is possible, and how to recover from things we cannot control.

    City Government cannot simply focus on ‘the things they control’—especially in the modern age. The role of strategic figureheads is to figure out which external factors to account for, and which ones to not account for. Now if you are saying they don’t have the ability to focus on even the things they CAN control, that’s different . . .

  11. Referring to the topic and posts by 10 MHzDays and TMcE, both viewpoints have merit.  Personally, I was thrilled that our area of the world was able to enrich Ireland.  During the first Dublin/San Jose Sister City trip in the 1980’s, I observed intelligent, well educated people who were on the dole.  It seemed to me, that Silicon Valley and most pointedly Tom McEnery was the ring on the carousel that the Irish were hoping to land.  And, they did.  I’ve always thought that most people missed how much Tom helped Ireland.  If you were here prior to his term, you would remember what he did for San Jose, but not necessarily be aware of how he facilitated beneficial industrial associations internationally. Enough said on that point.  Now, regarding TMcE’s prudent advice on govenment spending in today’s world.  We can’t disagree that we need to be self-sufficient, a la the Greek city-states.  As much as I feel a loss with American Musical Theater’s Chapter 7 state, I hope this will be a signal to other community groups, that San Jose can no longer financially rescue them.  Irene Dalis has been an exemplary leader showing fiscal responsibility with San Jose Opera. Could it be that she is from Old San Jose, from a family that helped her achiever her dream in New York by helping to financially support her, while other leaders of local cultural instituions have not had the personal experience of thrift to achieve something great?
    Now, regarding 10 MHz Days basic premise, it’s hard to disagree that overall lives of people are truly enriched by wealth and it’s entrapments. Growing up in San Jose, I was also thrilled that we were expanding into an internationally known city, more commonly recognized as Silicon Valley rather than San Jose.  Some people still don’t know the way.  But,you know, that may not be so bad after all.  When I reflect back, I truly believe my quality of life was better in the city that San Jose was in mid-1950’s.  Downtown San Jose certainly was.  None of you who didn’t experience downtown in it’s heyday would believe how nice it was.  So, in agreement with 10 MHz, is Ireland/San Jose really better off?  I sometime think that life in a third world country might be preferable. I certainly think that the former Ireland could withstand an economic downturn easier than the present Ireland.

  12. It’s true that in the last 10 or 15 years many Irish have been able to find employment in Ireland while in previous generations they might have had to emigrate. Considering the historic depopulation of the country that could definitely be considered as a plus.

    But unfortunately that led them into an orgy of US-style consumerism. Now with worldwide financial collapse, what are they left with?

    When Ireland was a poor country, it still had a rich cultural life. The Irish diaspora resulted in that cultural life spreading worldwide. Who inspired Gandhi in his campaign to free India? Terence MacSwiney, mayor of Cork.

    The Irish were inspirational in showing that cultural strength was independent of economic power. The Irish would never have defeated the English if economic power were paramount. Irish independence inspired the decolonization movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

    It’s a proud but mixed heritage, since Ireland’s independence didn’t halt emigration. But it did retard external cultural domination (chiefly from Britain at the time). Set aside the policies of the Irish government over the years, which I don’t want to discuss. Ireland has had internally a strong cultural pride and cohesion based on the shared values going back to the struggle for independence.

    If you look at the values that the Irish diaspora has brought to the US, Canada, Australia and other places that the Irish have emigrated to, one of the greatest values is community action and solidarity. This is a social structure that goes back to ancient Celtic times. The traditional term is the “meitheal”, the community work force. Initially it was used just to benefit fellow Irish, but over time it has broadened to include other ethnic groups.

    The Celtic Tiger boom brought economic prosperity to Ireland, but it also eroded the old social structure. As long as the money kept flowing in, perhaps only old people on fixed incomes would find something to complain about. But with the general financial collapse, the whole country is left asking where are we now?

    My friends in Ireland do not necessarily agree with the policies of the current Irish government. But that is something for the Irish to work out amongst themselves.

    The general point I want to take from this discussion is that the Irish have demonstrated that a purely economic analysis of government is not mandatory.  Another approach is to value community needs.

    Since Ireland since independence mostly has had to manage government under economically restricted circumstances, it might be enlightening to consider how community needs were dealt with in constricted economic times.

    As one example, because of the role played by Irish writers in achieving independence, Ireland freed writers from paying income tax.

    I’m not saying we should do the exact same thing here, I’m saying that we should consider cultural and social values rather than exclusively economic values when trying to allocate scarce resources.

    I think that the community as a whole can handle problematic conditions if it is perceived as a shared problem, better than if it is divided along class lines.

    If it’s “I can’t find activities for my children because the library is closed” versus “My kids have the latest video games, they’re OK”, then we’re in trouble. If people are trying to find community-based solutions based on trying to help everyone, then we will be able to get through even if times get tougher than they are now.

  13. 10 MHz Days,
    Beautiful post! I really enjoyed it. I agree that too much of anything can be a bad thing. I work with youth and their parents in conflict. Many of them are immigrants whose children have Americanized too much. There is a lot of fear from the parents that as their children become material oriented, and far less identified with their own cultural, that they are losing something far more valuable than what they are gaining through wealth, and technology.
    I must admit that that seems a real concern to me too. I see us becoming so materialistic, and advanced technology wise that we are actually becoming a society that is putting ourselves out of work, and losing the ability to enjoy the many talents we each hold that make us unique.  It is indeed sad to think we can become so lost in technology, and in money that self-sufficiency could become a long lost art~

  14. George #4,

    I read with humor your putting Councilman Pete Constant on a pedestal for “No mention of the fact that, aside from Pete Constant, no one, including Chuck, is willing to take on the investment-killing stranglehold of the unions.”

    Pete Constant is the ultimate hypocrite. He is now enjoying a lifelong tax free disability retirement for serving just a few years on the police department, and then turns around and rips the same union from where he gets his disability retirement checks. How about since Constant gets a paycheck for being on the City Council he doesn’t collect a disability retirement at the same time from the same city. He needs to put his money where his mouth is or he has little credibility.

  15. All of the feedback is interesting, but one thing stands out – The unions are killing us.

    When will we get someone that will stop sleeping with the giants and put the people of San Jose first?

    Anymore political leaders are not leaders at all. They are special interest to the unions – it’s that simple.

    It’s “The power of the people” that will make the true change, not the puppets we have in place.

    I’m ready; let me know if you are!

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