43 Years Later, Packard’s Leadership Lessons Still Resonate

Dear David Packard:

In the summer of 1977, you pulled together 33 valley visionaries to advance the future of our region, partially in response to the energy crisis gripping our nation and crippling California.  While fierce competitors in the marketplace, you all knew you could be effective collaborators in the community space.  Through your guidance, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group was born.

For the past 24 years, it’s been my honor to serve as CEO.  I’ve learned much from your legacy, yet there are three key lessons you taught that I will long cherish:

• “Be engaged, rather than enraged.”  Early on, your actions inspired CEOs about their role in the community; “Our job, as CEOs, is not to sit on the sidelines and cheer or jeer.  Our job is to get in the game and move the ball forward.”  Playing defense is important, often essential, but you place points on the board by playing offense.  During my 23-year tenure, “playing offense” has included the establishment of our Housing Trust Silicon Valley, in the midst of the dotcom bust. Undaunted, employers stepped forward with seed funding of $20 million in private contributions.  Today, more than $300 million in contributions has leveraged $3 billion in development, assisting 30,000 families to secure a safe, affordable place to live in our high-cost Valley.  Instead of whining about the housing problem, we looked for winning solutions to benefit families throughout our region.

• “Build Bridges to Build Stronger Communities.”  Earlier this week, I enjoyed an hour-long, “socially distanced” run with my friend Ben Field, CEO of the South Bay Labor Council.  We discussed ways in which we can continue to partner, and reminisced about past successes: Transportation ballot measures that have led to the opening of BART in Silicon Valley and improvements to Caltrain Commuter Rail; housing advocacy to ensure the approval of 300-plus affordable home developments; community efforts like our Applied Materials “Silicon Valley Turkey Trot.” Do Ben and I always agree?  No.  But by building bridges, rather than burning them down, we’re able to advance issues of importance to employers, employees and families.  I call it our “95/5 Principle” — my belief that as diverse as we are, we agree on core issues about 95% of the time, and vigorously disagree about 5%.  Rather than becoming blinded by the 5% on which we’ll never agree, we focus on the 95% where we can advance our communities together.

• “Speak Up, Stand Up, Step Up.”  This has never been more true than our efforts for racial justice and equity. First, we must speak up, which is why 140 CEOs signed our full-page newspaper ads within 24 hours.  Since speaking up is rarely enough, we must also “stand up,” by taking principled policy positions for police reforms and other measures that address inequalities systemic in our society.  Finally, we must “step up,” looking deeply within our own companies to improve our hiring, compensation and promotion practices, and taking a closer look at our C-Suites and board rooms.

David, there’s another lesson you taught me: when to step away and pass the reins of responsibility to someone new.  As I transition to my new role as executive vice president of Bloom Energy, I’m energized by the future of the Leadership Group and the positive, proactive difference it makes.  I’m equally energized to join Bloom, with the mission of our visionary founder KR Sridhar, to “make clean, reliable and affordable energy for everyone in the world.” Thank you, David, for modeling a vision with values for generations of leaders to follow.

Carl Guardino is stepping down as CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to become executive vice president of Bloom Energy. | July 23, 2020 | Originally posted in The Mercury News.