You probably wouldn?t be surprised to find out that everyone in Silly-con Valley is obsessed. Some are driven by potential riches, many are driven by work, and every day I see at least five people who are driven by a chauffeur in a limousine. But they are all driven to distraction by stock prices, particularly in technology.
Not only is the US the ultimate stakeholder economy, in which everyone owns shares, but everybody here also buys and sells shares online. Brokers make fortunes, and tip-offs from insiders are rife.
At a bar last Saturday, I overheard a woman in her early 20s tell some friends she had got some Intel stock stashed for a rainy day in case she needed to buy herself a present. She was considering selling it. They asked how much stock. ?Only a little,? she replied. ?I might buy a Jeep and have a holiday with some of it.? This technology investment lark sounds like it might be worth looking into.
Two weeks ago US office equipment supplier Ikon has bought Manchester?s Redbox, the first move in its attack on dealers in the UK and Europe (PC Dealer, 11 June). The firm is buying its way in by acquiring many smaller resellers and systems integrators and has aimed to quickly develop its business to challenge everyone who resells in the UK, particularly those who sell to small and medium-sized businesses.
A $4 billion company can afford to take this bold approach, although it is sensible to buy and keep local knowledge. As I wondered if its strategy will succeed, I decided the main question over Ikon?s success is the usual one ? margins. It will offer integration services to keep higher margins on most deals, but can it cope with the low margins for commodity products in the dealer channel? This company is accustomed to selling pens, paper and copiers. I think it will manage.
It seems that one Compaq senior vice president, Greg Petsch, reckons the direct sales approach taken by Dell and Gateway 2000 is inefficient for corporates. Petsch gave a speech arguing that indirect channels are still needed to provide service and support, despite Compaq?s recent move into direct sales.
I realise that perhaps, taking an objective view, Compaq was right to begin offering direct sales. But Compaq?s message seems to be that the indirect channel is there to sell its products and provide it with profit when Compaq sees fit ? and becomes superfluous when the manufacturer decides to march in with direct sales.
But Petsch admits that Compaq still needs resellers to sell to corporates. So, what area does this guy deal with? He is the vice president of corporate operations and quality. Surprise, surprise.
Last week I had a pop at Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. Number two on the list of software companies ? and therefore on my rant hit-list ? is Oracle and its CEO Larry Ellison. Oracle occupies buildings that look like giant canisters in Redwood Shores, just a couple of miles from my base.
The company is one of the biggest employers in the region, and as everyone drives everywhere in the US, one canister is a massive car park. I estimate that roughly 6,000 cars arrive at Oracle in the morning and leave at night, pouring on and off Silicon Valley?s main road, the five-lane Highway 101. It is such a nightmare that George Orwell himself could have chosen the name ?101? for those whose worst fear is cars rather than rats.
All these Oracle staff help create what Larry might call ?full utilisation of the network? and what we might call an almighty traffic jam. Larry never sees this, though, because he can always get around using his plane or helicopter.
The worst time is between 5pm and 6.30pm, when the junction beside Oracle HQ is always jammed ? it?s particularly bad if you get there at 10 past the hour and meet all the Oracle staff who knocked off 10 minutes ago.
This fact has been noticed by the local residents, who are slowly but surely starting to resent the company for it. They are putting pressure on the authorities to stop Larry building any more canisters and getting any more people to join the 15mph procession along Highway 101.
Unfortunately for them, Oracle?s contribution to the local economy carries rather more weight than their contributions to planning permission meetings. Another canister is going up rapidly and the rumours say Oracle will apply to build more soon. Presumably that will include somewhere else for Larry ? who Oprah Winfrey called ?America?s most eligible bachelor? ? to show off his chopper.
James Harding is US Editor of VNU Newswire, based in San Francisco. He can be reached at [email protected] or on 00 1 415 306 0879.
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