An interface with the giants of Silicon Valley

Wednesday, 01 November 2000


    Although Australia leads the world in the adoption of new technologies, our record for innovation and the commercialisation of new technologies is far less impressive

    Many in business claim inadequate government incentives for R&D are to blame, but in the US even small companies plough millions of dollars into research without any government support at all. What lessons can Australian business learn from the phenomenal success of Silicon Valley, the primary seat of innovation and entrepreneurship for the new economy? The AICD is giving a small group of Australian directors an opportunity to find out first-hand. We are organising a study tour of the Valley, during which participants will gain a unique insight into its history and culture, as well as the legal, capital and management expertise that has enabled it to evolve. The five-day tour, in February 2001, will include visits to some of the most successful companies based in the region. Two days will be dedicated to visiting established high-tech firms and dotcoms, such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, eBay Inc, Yahoo! Inc and LookSmart, as well as some young start-up companies. Each visit will be hosted by senior executives from the organisation, and will include plenty of opportunity for one-on-one discussion. For example, at LookSmart the group will be hosted by Evan Thornley (co-founder and CEO) and Tracey Ellery (co-founder and president), while at eBay Meg Whitman, president and CEO will be their host.

    The group will also visit venture capital firms at 3000 Sand Hill Rd – the address accepted as the world's venture capital centre – to meet the people who funded the technology revolution. In addition, they will meet with human capital experts to explore the new and diverse ways being used to meet the increasingly difficult challenge of finding and retaining the right mix of technical and managerial talent, common to all firms in the Valley. And they will be briefed by the legal community on the critical issues of valuing intellectual property and the importance and impact of stock options in driving start-ups. Participants will also visit Stanford University Business School to discuss the critical role the University played in founding companies such as Hewlett Packard, SUN Microsystems, Yahoo! and others, and the importance of business education being close to the new companies grappling with ideas and technologies and the better deployment of human capital. The recent role SRI (Stanford Research Institute) has played in bringing new technologies to market will also be explored.

    To close the tour, the group will meet people from key organisations devoted to addressing the social and regional impact of technology and rapid change on local communities. This session will include visits to the Institute of the Future and the Digital Clubhouse, one of a series of local community centres that provide web access and training to disadvantaged people. The tour will be documented on video by Andrew Meikle of the Meikle Files, an organisation committed to researching and providing information on the methods and motivations of successful people and corporations. Meikle will also develop a summary document high-lighting the key insights of each visit and meeting.

    The video and document will be available to both participants and AICD members. The tour will be led by a senior AICD director, and numbers will be strictly limited to a maximum of 20 to ensure participants have the opportunity for one-on-one dialogue with the people they meet. Accommodation will be at the Garden Court Hotel, an intimate luxury hotel located in downtown Palo Alto, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Invitations to participate in the study tour will be sent out during November.


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