Monday, January 18, 2010

Ethical capitalism: The OrCAD story

DisclaimerThe following narrative expresses memories of a common past.  Undoubtedly, others who were part of the experience will have different perceptions of that era.  And most certainly they will have drawn different conclusions.  Therefore, I want to stress that what follows is my interpretation.  Only mine.

Where's Waldo?
In the face of all the recent revelations about corporate malfeasance, the Rich taking care of the Rich, and greedy and unethical behavior on Wall Street, I hearken back to one example of capitalism from my own life; an example that actually worked in the manner that is so often preached but so rarely practiced in Corporate America.  That is to say:  ethically.

OrCAD was a small, privately-held software company that specialized in electronic design tools.  People who used OrCAD software were generally electronic engineers designing programmed circuits (those little claw-footed black chips in your computer) or circuit boards (the platforms on which those chips are mounted).  (I offer this simplistic description with apologies to my former coworkers from Marketing.)

In 1995, the company was engaged in an undertaking to become a publicly-held corporation.  Here was a story that exemplified the Great American Dream; persistence and hard work resulting in success.  From its humble beginnings (sometime around 1985) as a set of electronic drafting tools for the personal computer OrCAD was making the transition to a full-fledged electronic design software company bought and sold on the open market.

I came to work at OrCAD for my second "tour of duty" in 1995.  I had worked for the company briefly in 1989, during its infancy, and had maintained friendships with many people who worked there still, including Nanci Hamilton, who had been and would be my direct supervisor.  (Nanci recently published an historical book about Portland's Multnomah Village which I recommend to all.)

When I returned to OrCAD, I entered a corporate environment that was very much focused on its goal of attaining an IPO (Initial Public Offering).  Under the leadership of CEO Mike Bosworth, the company developed a palpable esprit de corps.  There was a sense of common endeavor unlike any other that I have experienced in my professional career. It was not that the employees at OrCAD universally liked one another (although there were many meaningful friendships) nor that the office was free of political infighting and rivalry (people are people, after all) but that each worked on the assumption that coworkers were operating from a position of good faith and responsibility.

In the last, frenzied push to achieve our goal of public ownership, all hands at OrCAD put in long hours, ignored the confines of official responsibility to help one another out, contributed to the success of each other and our collective whole.  I specifically remember one Sunday night, just before a software release, when coworker Casey and I stayed until 10pm, putting the final touches on our customer documentation.  Imagine:  working in the office at 10pm on Sunday night, willingly, even enthusiastically.

A lot of heroic work went into our effort to "go public."  It occurred all across the company: from Sales to Marketing to Quality Assurance to Shipping and beyond.   We had a goal and we knew what must be done to attain it and we did it.

Looking back on that effort now, I recall that my motivation at the time was not for financial reward.  Yes, I and all my coworkers held stock options that had the potential to become valuable if OrCAD were sold on the NASDAQ.  But I was driven more by a sense of responsibility to my coworkers.  We were a team and I would do my part.  And I don't think I was alone in possessing that motivation.

We finally did achieve our goal of becoming a publicly held corporation.  But, sadly, going public spelled the beginning of the end for our little company.  Because, OrCAD, being a corporate entity, existed within the world of free market capitalism. And the laws in that world dictate the imperative of perpetual growth.  In that world, the Holy Grail is dollars, dollars, dollars.  Soon after our IPO, OrCAD was acquired by Cadence Design Systems, a relatively huge software company out of San Jose, California.

And while it is true that our stock options became valuable (I sold my own stock almost immediately), it is also true that the acquisition put a definitive end to OrCAD's existence.  Cadence bought us not so that they could continue to develop our tool set, nor to allow our microcosm of ethical professionalism to thrive, but so that they could shelve our technology which they believed undercut their own (much more expensive) tool set.

I bear no animosity toward Cadence.  After all, Cadence rewarded us with the only real reward that capitalism has to offer:  lucrative financial compensation.  (Eight years later, I still have not attained the personal income that I had at that time.)

But I am saddened, when I look back at all the well-intentioned and trusting and heroic effort that went into OrCAD's rise.  In exchange for those stock options, those dollars, we gave up a workplace where integrity and trust were the stock-in-trade, where, despite rivalries and personal friction, everyone recognized the goal of our common endeavor.

The entire episode serves as allegory for the shallow virtues of capitalism.  But, then again, the scent of Eden was never so sweet as when it was lost to all but memory.

But let me shout out to all my former coworkers:  to Cindy and Scott, to Chuck and Chuck, to Moji and Beth, to KJ and that ol' dawg Jeff, to Brian and Tim, to Greg and Kimberly, to Lynda and Molly and Marybeth and Wayne, to Kim and Fritz, to Abby and Jonathan and Troy and Tony and Phil, to Gerald and Jeanine, and to everyone else.  We had a great gig, there at OrCAD.  Here's hopin' that you're all doing well.


John Hughes said...

You wrote it well Dade. There will never be another OrCAD in my opinion. At least I don't think I will ever work anywhere as "magical" as OrCAD.

Jonathan Hawes said...

OrCAD had "it" - shared values and all! As for there never being another? Nto exactly the same.. no, there will not. But I am living under a good star... YottaMark, where I have been for 2+ years is on the rise AND doing something good for the world by providing transparency in your food supply (see thats us.

We are 50 people (you rememmber that size company), driven by integrity and strive to always choose "right" over short-term gain.

There will never be another OrCAD... but it is up to each of us (yes Dade the Grasshoppers live) to make sure that OrCAD echos whereever we fire up our laptops.

Verticalrain said...

I entered the OrCAD world post-IPO, with the acquisition of MicroSim. OrCAD was the acquirer... I found that a special culture and ethic was very much alive at that time. One thing I especially appreciated was the emphasis by management in developing leadership across the company regardless of current rank of the participants. There was a clear sense of teamwork, trust and working together. And, in that context we developed some very innovative ways of working together and actually making the delivery of quality software routine! That was a lot of fun!

Doug Helbling said...

Thanks you, Dade, for your thoughtful article.

I came in late to this story, having joined after the Cadence acquisition. But I did give up a very good position in another company to do so. And after two years of hard work, like most of you, I received a Golden Ticket out the door as a thank you for my hard work. What is most annoying are the memories of the back-biting, blaming-gaming, sales staff manipulation and outright treachery of members of the staff, the sort of politics that are so very East Coast in style. This real culture clash is a major reason why so many of us are "gone" and so many of the politically savvy are still working at Cadence.

That you, Dade, bear no ill will is a testament to your good nature. I'm not that forgiving or noble a person.

Anonymous said...

Dade, the story of OrCAD is a good one, and a very educational one that does merit examination. IPO #1, management buyout, IPO #2 which you refer to, followed by acquisition. The culture, formed consciously by the management and the staff, was unique and powerful. In retrospect we would have ridden out the downturn of 2001-02 and even 2008 to the present pretty darn well with technology, price, and excellent management and a loyal, dedicated, and talented workforce. Such speculation is useless, however. In my view, our investors were not satisfied with our dominant market position in the low end of the market, and our relatively modest (for a tech stock) but still meaningful profitability. So, we sold. My only regret is that more of us did not recognize how special it was at the time. But, I draw satisfaction from the knowledge that many people did recognize this. I hope all of you are well.
- Greg Thomas (find me on LinkedIn)
OrCAD 1996-1999
Cadence 1999-2002

Jeff Irwin said...

Who are you calling Dawg?

I agree that the culture at OrCAD was like none other that I have known. It was special in a way that isn't easily found.

What I remember best are the special relationships. Not only were we coworkers, but good friends. We did so many activities together outside of work (some of which are best left unmensioned). Oh, and who can forget basketball with the Boz!?!?

Steve Werner said...

Thanks, Dade, for recounting the experience. It was a special time of energy, commitment, and cooperation.

If you are still feeling nostalgic, you may wish to continue the trip down memory lane at

Unknown said...

Thanks Dade. The OrCAD experience was special. Greg's comment is so true, most people didn't fully appreciate what we had until you didn't have it any longer.

I think we all strive to replicate that experience wherever we go.

I am looking forward to our paths crossing again.


Unknown said...

Excellent way to remember OrCAD. There was nothing like those little startups of the '80s and '90s. I had a similar wonderful experience at startup Metheus (circa 1983-86) before the '80s recession got us. The time I was at OrCAD was equally great, and I still believe the second worst thing that can happen is IPO, the worst is acquisition. I think the picture was slightly before my time, but I remember with fondness so many in that picture. Thanks for the walk down memory lane Dade.
Sue Bartlett

Anonymous said...

Deborah Sturm - Sales
That is really great Dade. When I refer to this time in my professional life I look back in fondness and remember how up front Mike Bosworth was about the business and his role in it. He was a great leader. Haven't worked for such a good man since then........

Jeff said...

Who are you calling Dawg?

I agree that the culture at OrCAD was like none other that I have known. It was special in a way that isn't easily found.

What I remember best are the special relationships. Not only were we coworkers, but good friends. We did so many activities together outside of work (some of which are best left unmensioned). Oh, and who can forget basketball with the Boz!?!?

John Hughes said...

You wrote it well Dade. There will never be another OrCAD in my opinion. At least I don't think I will ever work anywhere as "magical" as OrCAD.