How does a company grow from an entrepreneur's idea to a $4 billion player in a market space that it not only emerged to lead, but played a dominant role in shaping? What combination of people, strategy, circumstance and luck made it possible? What was it like to be part of that experience?
These are among the questions I'll try to address in a series of posts about the company where I spent a quarter century of my career: Symbol Technologies.
As I noted in an earlier introductory comment, for me this is something of a love story. While not everything about my time there was perfect (far from), it was an experience defined by learning, growth, winning and passion — I believe for the vast majority of us that called it home for so many years. I'll never forget it.
So how did it happen?
I believe that the central theme to the story behind the answer to that question is all about people and passion. If a group of capable folks can be attracted to a business, engaged in stimulating work with team mates they enjoy and can learn from, and given a taste of challenge, winning and personal growth — passion emerges.
A culture characterized by passion creates a powerful flywheel effect: Everyone works harder. Group energy is largely focused on what's important and on team results, rather than on unproductive or politically-driven activities. Customers recognize it, and want to buy from you. Partners see it and want to be part of it. New talent hears about it, feels it — and wants to join the team. All of which leads to accellerating success — and more passion.
Passion broke out early at Symbol, and never left. Our founders, Jerry Swartz and Shelly Harrison, planted its seeds. The early glimmers of what might just be possible kept it growing through the initial years of struggle. Perserverance (THE defining word for Jerry Swartz, pictured here) through those struggles bred confidence — passion's close companion. Pivotal wins and market coups fanned its flames. Rapid growth, continued years on end, added further fuel. Pride in our success and emergence as the leader in our industry cemented it in place as the central character of our culture.
Passion is what drove us to do our best: Design the most innovative products. Close the biggest deals. Even throw the best parties! Do enough of those things, and you can grow a $4 billion company.
Even when other, less noble human factors came into play, the dominant sensibility was defined by passion to win. Yes, as in most any enterprise involving those organic, imperfect, squishy things we call people, greed, ambition and ego also played roles in this story. But even in the darker passages of our shared history, they were undercurrents, not the dominant themes.
Passion. You show me a company with a passion-infused culture, and I'll show you a winner. Show me one lacking it, and you'll have found an also-ran or loser. Passion is both cause and effect. It creates the basis for success, and grows still stronger with that success.
I'll return to this theme of people and passion frequently as I tell this story in the days and months to come. But of course there's more to this tale. In my next post I'll say a few words about what was special about the fertile ground in which Symbol was planted.
Sometimes Mark Twain was wrong.
Rich – Looking forward to following your thoughts. As a Symbol boomerang – left, came back a few years later (thanks, Rich!) – I tell you, SBL was a place where people said, “I love this company.”