A Forum on Failure Stirs One-Liners and Personal Anguish Among CEOs

11/20/08Follow @bvbigelow

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 hubris, which he defined as “Someone’s ego or inability to look at themselves or the situation around them.”

Senturia, who moderated the discussion, urged the CEOs to talk about the toll that failure has taken on them personally.

“If I look back and ask myself what were the things that really cut me deep, it’s the relationships,” said Joe Markee, a venture investor and co-founder of San Diego’s Copper Mountain Networks and Primary Access. “I had gone to friends at Qualcomm and convinced them to come work with me. I’ve had to shut a company down and tell people that we can’t go on.”

Kalb responded, “I started a company called Analog Analytics, and I had to fire a guy that I had worked with for 16 years. We had started five companies together and made a ton of money. And he was devastated.”

Kalb in particular was open about his personal anguish in business failures, saying it’s very hard for him as CEO to keep the business side from spilling over into his personal and emotional life.

“Relationships fail. Marriages fail,” Kalb said. “I never managed to figure out the difference between who I was and what I did.”

Peter Shaw, who’s started several technology companies, declared, “People ask me how I’ve managed to stay married for 37 years. And I tell them, ‘I’ve been an entrepreneur. And I travel a lot.’”

The audience roared.

Seizing on the opportunity to discuss the toll on relationships, Senturia turned to Tina Nova, founder and CEO of specialized laboratory service provider Genoptix, and said: “Tina, you’ve been through five or six marriages. Why don’t you talk about what that’s like?”

As another wave of laughter erupted, Nova said, “It’s very hard. It’s very hard to find someone who understands what it takes.”

Markee said Copper Mountain Networks was founded in 1996 to develop Digital Subscriber Line equipment for high-speed internet connections. The company initially targeted the regional Bell operating companies as its customers, but later switched to focus on CLECs, competitive local exhange carriers. After its initial public offering in 1999, the company’s market valuation was close to $1 billion, but Copper Mountain’s customer base evaporated in the telecom networking “tech wreck” of 2001.

In retrospect, Markee said, “The way the market was going and the CLECs were building, you knew there was going to be a reckoning, but you couldn’t tell where it was.” Copper Mountain later moved … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Tyler Orion

    Bruce-
    Thanks for capturing the spirit of the event. I think everyone in the audience left with a dose of reality despite being entertained. The willingness of the speakers to be candid and “tell one on themselves” was stunning and Neil was hilarious. It was the MIT Forum at it’s best. (Sorry I missed seeing you- good to see you’re still here covering our tech community!)

  • http://www.sitetuneups.com Steve Glass

    Very good article, captured the essence of this amazing event. I also appreciated the point that being an CEO of a start-up requires charisma and talent, leadership is a learned skill.

    A “well done” to Neil, this took a lot of dedication and work, and to his co-presenters for opening up as they did.

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