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Silicon Valley Business Journal event – Bruce Chizen (former CEO of Adobe) speaks on business and the Silicon Valley

May 8th, 2008 Comments off

I attended an event tonight sponsored by the Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal.  The event is branded as the “Who’s Who in CEOs” in the valley though it seemed mostly like mid-level business executives from a variety of regional companies.  There were 75-100 people in attendance and ample opportunity for networking.

Bruce Chizen, the former CEO of Adobe who scaled them into the powerhouse they are now, was the featured guest and did a “fireside” chat of sorts at the end of dinner.  (I was at an Under the Radar conference recently where the CTO of Amazon did a fireside chat, it seems all the rage these days)

Chizen had a lot of interesting things to say so I attempted to take notes for some pseudo-live blogging.  I hacked most of this out on my Touch Dual, so cheers to the 20-key keyboard, evidently it is useable for notetaking.  The forum for the chat was most Q&A so I’m paraphrasing answers:

Why did you retire?  I reached a point where I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working life at Adobe and started working with the Board to decide on a good time to leave.  Leaving Adobe when they were at the top of their game seemed like the best time.

What advice do you have for new / young public companies?  Go private 🙂  (got a lot of laughs).  Companies in the US are hamstrung by the quarterly focus and can’t make long term investments.  Don’t lose focus on balanced longer term risk.

How do you maintain premium pricing? If you only have commodity product you have to compete on price. If you have differentiation you have to exploit it. With Photoshop, half the people who buy it have no business buying it!  It’s targeted at premium graphic designers, most buyers never use most of the features.  But it’s a premium product so don’t compromise on pricing and leave it at $700.  Use your marketing to highlight the difference and charge for differentiation.

How do you grow the business without turning off core customers? We reinforced that the core customer mattered. We used them in focus groups, we made them feel like they were special and never let them forget that we had products for them.  Honda is my example of keeping loyalty. Honda started off selling lawn mowers. They maintained a reputation of excellence and quality, and that is the common theme between all their different businesses.  To this day Honda still sells lawnmowers and does so at high quality.

What other deals did you consider that perhaps you can talk about now?  Other deals? I’m not a big fan of acquisitions. It’s very had to merge two cultures, even if they seem complementary.  82% of mergers fail in tech. Deal that got away was a collaboration company. Adobe could not make it work without destroying adobe culture. The other company treated their employees like a sweatshop and the other two bidders were better capitalized.  (For whatever reason, I’m not sure what company he was talking about!)

How do you create a great culture?  Give the employees free candy.  (again lots of laughs) I give lots of credit to Chuck and Jim (founders of the company).  They created a great culture.  John and Chuck had great values that pervaded the company and my goal was keeping them intact. For instance, I had a big focus on performance reviews. I instituted a policy that you weren’t eligible for an annual bonus if you don’t do reviews for your people which is 20% of your income. I responded to every internal employee email.

How do you find great talent in a competitive market?   Ask yourself a hard question, which jobs do you really want in the Silicon Valley?  Your goal should be to find bright creative people. Who know global markets. Who know how to manage others. Flexibility to create. Community constraints are biggest challenge in the Valley specifically education, infrastructure, cost of living.

What was it like to transition to San Jose?  Great experience. Communications are easier in high rise instead of 17 low rise buildings since you’re just taking an elevator up and down.  The City is more interesting that where we were before.  San Jose is improving tremendously but needs to become more desirable for young people. Macromedia kids did not want to move
down here.

Chizen also spoke extensively about his passion for education and his involvement with various non profits and NGOs to change the education game in the Silicon Valley.  I was impressed with his vision and commitment to making an impact.

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