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.
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.