Venture capital, technology employment gap inhibits economic growth
"Everybody repeat after me, 'We can do this,'" said Lambert, with more than a decade in corporate venture investments under her belt. She cited the $1 trillion in black income, over-indexing for utilization of technology and spending in general. That number has doubled since a 1998 article in Technology Marketing "Industry ignores $447 billion market.'
The need for the affirmation underscored why Ken Coleman, Chair of MIPS Technologies and Accelrys, two publicly traded companies; and Ben Horowitz, partner of Andreessen Horowitz, called together a meeting to discuss expanding opportunities in the technology capital of the world.
Lambert was sitting between John W. Thompson, CEO of Virtual Instruments and former CEO and Chairman of Symantec; and David Drummond, senior vice president of Google, with Shellye Archambeau, President and CEO of MetricStream, and venture capitalist Charles Hudson of SoftTech VC also on the panel, an unprecedented gathering of African-American executive firepower on one stage in the valley.
Drummond said, "We have to be bold to push past the barriers. When I look at our numbers at Google, they tell me that we hire a lot of computer scientists and admittedly there are not a lot of us in Ph.D programs, but half of our employees are not computer scientists and we have the same problems in those areas." He cited bringing 150 African-American interns to work at the company last summer as an example of how African-American leaders can improve diversity.
Coleman, Lambert, Thompson, Drummond, Archabeau have all been among the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology multiple years over the past 13 years. Other 50 Most selectees in the audience included Gerald Commissiong, President and CEO of Amarantus BioSciences, Corey Rosemond, now director of business development for Plantronics and David Windley, until recently senior vice president of human resources for Yahoo.
Coleman began the program at Andreessen Horowitz' offices on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park by acknowledging his mentor -- Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame member Roy Clay Sr., Chair of Rod-L Electronics Inc., entering its 35th year since 1977. Clay actually created the first big IPO with his invention of a fault tolerant computer that led to the creation of Tandem Computers. Clay brought a copy of an early 1970s letter from the founder of Kleiner Perkins. As a consultant for Kleiner Perkins, Clay recommended investments in Lambert's firm, Intel, and Compaq, now part of Hewlett Packard, along with Tandem. Clay was the first manager of computer research and development at Hewlett Packard in 1965.
Drummond also acknowledged how Harry Bremond, one of the founding attorneys of the Wilson Sonsini law firm, mentored him through 11 years at the firm, before Drummond was the attorney who drew up Google's incorporation papers.
Younger members of the audience were surprised to hear the extent of African-American involvement in the earliest stages of Silicon Valley's development, a story told in the ReUNION documentaries Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge and A Great Day in Gaming: From Queens to Silicon Valley: the Gerald A. Lawson Story.
Twice the expected number of 50 attendees packed the conference room, a sign of the historic isolation that African-Americans have felt in Silicon Valley. Clay recalled when Coleman helped organize a similar forum in the early 1990s which attracted more than 200 persons each month. Those events are covered in the book Success Secrets of Black Executives.
Coleman deftly moderated the panel to bring out valuable insights they could share about the growth of their careers while balancing their personal lives.
Lambert, mother of two young children, said, "Don't focus on career to the exclusion of family."
Archambeau pointed to one of her two children in the audience. "You can do it. You can succeed and be there for your family."
Lambert and Hudson said they were avid scuba divers. Archambeau created a gourmet cooking club. Drummond has developed a passion for cycling and has taken the cause of reforming college sports. Thompson is a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors
Horowitz acknowledged that race plays a factor in the low participation of African-Americans in venture capital and Silicon Valley. But he contended, "Greed trumps race. If you have a good deal, somebody will make it."
Silicon Ceiling 12: Equal Opportunity and High Technology reports this week that Santa Clara County ranks 28th among U.S. counties for hiring African-Americans in information industries, although black workers in the county have an average monthly salary of $12,000. Of the 450,000 African-Americans in the computer industry nationally, fewer than 2,000 work in Santa Clara County.
Lambert said the lack of diversity is bad for business. "You can't reach those markets unless you have people from those communities," she noted. "The consumer products brands got this long ago."
Thompson said African-Americans in the valley have a responsibility to dispell stereotypes. "How diverse is your network?" he asked. "Don't just cluster."
"Don't be afraid to be visible," said Archambeau.
Hudson said, "I don't know how many times whites will tell me that I'm the only black person they have a meaningful friendship with."
Thompson and Hudson said raising capital is difficult even for the well-connected. Thompson, after decades of executive leadership at IBM and the turnaround of Symantec, is now raising capital for Virtual Instruments for the first time in his career. The company just completed a round of $27 million. In response to a question from Coleman, he noted that he had been just an investor in the firm, but when a cash crunch arose and he sought new capital, investors insisted that he take the helm for the foreseeable future.
Archambeau also left IBM after realizing that she would not become the CEO there. Like Thompson, she took over a company headed in the wrong direction after convincing venture capitalist Vinod Khosla that she had the ability to right the ship. She said African-Americans must be more willing to take calculated risks, particularly black women, to further their careers.
Hudson is both a venture capitalist and CEO of startup Bionic Panda Games. "If you're a venture capitalist and you're trying to raise money, they don't give you any breaks," he quipped. "If anything they're harder."
Coleman is former vice president of human resources at Hewlett Packard and Activision before taking a role as senior vice president at Silicon Graphics Inc. He launched the Peninsula Association of Black Personnel Administrators, one of the groups that led to the formation of the National Association of African-Americans in Human Resources. The Air Force veteran said the gatherings would continue. "Its not an event, it's a journey."