Cray, Isilon, Marchex Weigh In With Their Company Cultures Boiled Down to One Word

10/5/09Follow @gthuang

How do you go about summarizing a company’s culture in one word? I haven’t a clue, but whenever I ask CEOs, they always come up with something interesting—and often surprising. In the past couple of months, I’ve been asking top executives at Northwest tech startups to talk about their company culture and why it’s unique. So far, none has refused to play the “one word” game.

I’ve received a fascinating array of responses that speak to the companies’ management styles, the kinds of talent they’re looking for, and their overall strategy—what they think sets them apart from their competition. From Bellevue, WA-based Apptio’s “paranoid” to Seattle-based Picnik’s “easy,” you can see a lot of a company’s mindset through the keyhole of just one word. And last month, Bob did a comparison of Boston vs. Seattle one-word cultures—and found that the New England startups were a little more New-Agey in their responses than companies here in the Northwest. (No idea what this means, but it’s always fun to go up against the East Coast.) And Bruce followed that up by checking in with five San Diego firms.

Now I’m extending the exercise to Seattle’s public tech companies. I wondered whether their responses would show any glaring differences from the startups—more conventional, say, or boring. After checking with a few of them (each has been around for six years or longer), my scientific answer is “not really.”

Our initial short list of public companies spans the fields of supercomputing, data storage, and online advertising. Be warned, Mr. Ballmer, Mr. Bezos, and Mr. Glaser—I’m coming for you too.

Cray (NASDAQ: CRAY)
CEO: Peter Ungaro
Culture: “Next”
Comments: Ungaro says, “Never satisfied with the status quo, our employees are committed to providing our customers with the next-generation of Cray supercomputers. Collectively as a company, our passion is setting new boundaries of what supercomputers are capable of and providing those resources to the world’s researchers and engineers.” He adds, “We celebrate achievements and acknowledge milestones, but we are focused on what’s next and what we all have to do to get there.”

Isilon Systems (NASDAQ: ISLN)
CEO: Sujal Patel
Culture: “Driven”
Comments: Patel says, “We have been through a million different things that show how driven we are. We survived…we grew, we built, we went public, we ran into some nasty roadblocks, we recovered from that.” He adds, “We only get through that stuff because we are driven as an organization—and that’s not about me, it’s about the people in this building.”

Marchex (NASDAQ: MCHX)
COO: Peter Christothoulou
Culture: “Innovative”
Comments: Christothoulou says, “Being innovative is at the core of everything we do; from delivering the most innovative products and technology, to hiring and employing innovative, collaborative people to provide our customers with the best experience possible.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • John Dawson

    Marchex say they are ” innovative” Can they start focusing on a new more important word please for their shareholders “profitable” After losing $300 million last year new ideas and innovations dont cut it anymore. maybe they should sell some of their 250,000 domain names they bought and start focusing on “profits”

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