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A Local Legend Turns 100

A bi-weekly column with timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the BC technology industry.

Something Ventured:
November 17th, 2000


By Brent Holliday

"Still I've kept my dreams alive
'Cause the boy will never die...
So long so long so long
You been away
So long so long so long
You're back again "
Tom Cochrane, Boy Inside The Man

Ann Landers was almost run out of the business when she surreptitiously tried this. I'll be up front. I'm recycling old articles this week. The reason I am recycling is that the topic that I wrote about 2 and a half years ago just turned 100 three months ago. I have pictures to prove it. You have read here that we need to celebrate our star technology people and promote them to the rest of the world. Well, here's an original, THE original tech star with roots in Vancouver. I have updated the article a bit with some new information. So gather the kids around the fireplace and listen to a story about the entrepreneur and some of the decisions made that created a massive technology company that has been in the Fortune 100 longer than Bill Gates has been alive.

Our story begins in Manchester, England on August 6th, 1900, but it doesn't stay there for long. A young boy and his parents soon set sail for San Francisco. In the brave new world, the boy's father sought employment in mining concerns. About 1906, he decided to venture north to a new place called Vancouver.

In a nearly disastrous decision, he left his wife and the young boy behind. San Francisco then quaked and burnt to the ground. The boy and his mother were homeless and penniless and had no way of getting to Vancouver. A complete stranger listened to their plight and gave them enough money to board a ship north. The 6-year-old boy remembered this generosity and it helped shape the man he became.

Fresh off the ship in Vancouver, a rather unruly logging town, the mother and boy set about searching for their husband/father. Legend has it that they actually walked right into him on Hastings St. (Picture that moment next time you are standing at Granville and Hastings). Reunited, the family decided to stay in Vancouver.

The boy became a man, attending public and King Edward high school in town and then attending UBC, when it was a McGill campus downtown. In 1921, he left for Boston, MA and a prestigious school called MIT. He earned a Master's in Electrical Engineering by 1924, specializing in a leading edge technology field of the day, steam turbine electricity generation (!).

He bounced between jobs in Boston, at one time working on gaseous tubes with a company called Raytheon. He then traveled across the country to Palo Alto and worked for a small company called Federal Telegraph (IT&T) (at the time, the largest telecommunications equipment provider). It was here that the engineer started to see new ideas.

There was a new field emerging in the labs, using a technology called reflection seismograph (later, called sonar). In the height of the depression, mid 1930, the young man's knowledge of this new technology impressed two founders of a new start-up in New Jersey. He joined the company and immediately started to implement his seismology techniques in oil exploration. The company was intuitively named Geophysical Service (yup, engineers - not marketing guys).

The young man then led a "nomadic life" in the world's oil patches for the rest of the 1930's. The new technology slowly started to show promise in predicting optimal drilling locations. The company started looking for oil on its own and had some success. Our young man becomes one of four key executives in the company. Then, something called a world war started to play havoc with their business. Oil companies were not into overseas exploration anymore and the company lost contracts and money.

On December 6th, 1941, an ultimatum was made to the company's four founders. The geophysical unit was to be split from the oil discovery business. If the founders couldn't buy the unit themselves, Standard Oil would buy it (and they would most likely be looking for work). Our now 41-year-old man is part of the group decision to mortgage everything they have to buy the unit. The deal closed on this day. Entrepreneurs often talk about timing being a key to their success. The next day, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Within 3 weeks, the small, struggling company had a new ultimatum. This time it was from the US Government. Oil exploration was way, way down on the list of priorities. Uncle Sam was telling every company in the U.S., "make something for the war effort or we conscript your employees".

The four founders discussed possible products. A man from the US Navy had seen their technology and proposed that it could be used to detect enemy submarines. The founders agreed that this was their best course of action and, after all, the military could afford to pay for expensive equipment.

In a period of one month, the founders of Geophysical Service had become reluctant owners as an alternative to being out of work. Then they had become submarine detecting equipment suppliers as an alternative to closing up shop. Only one thing left to do after refocusing the company: give it a new name. Since their headquarters had moved to Dallas a few years before to be closer to the oil, the men decided to call their new fledgling company... are you ready for this.... Texas Instruments.

The company went on to make more radar equipment in the 40's and in 1952, purchased some licenses for a brand new technology called transistors. Texas Instruments (TI) listed on the NYSE in 1953, the same year they released a pioneering new consumer device called the transistor radio.

They followed that up in 1954 with the first commercial silicon transistor. In the process they beat Bell (AT&T) to market, even though Bell's scientists had invented the transistor in the first place (The story of how William Shockley invented the transistor and then failed to capitalize on it, only to spawn Fairchild and then Intel, is also worth a read). And to top it off, in 1958, TI was the first company in the world to demonstrate an integrated circuit, invented by Jack Kilby who just won the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics. Jack Kilby joined TI in 1952. His invention, also called the microchip for many years, has created US$231 Billion in revenue from all products developed around it by TI and many other companies that improved the original design. If you bought 100 shares of TI in 1953, you would have 6,000 today through share splits. If you were one of the founders, you became very, very rich.

The man in the story is Cecil H. Green. Remember the stranger that was his benefactor at age six? Cecil, and his wife Ida, became great philanthropists in the name of technology and education. Have you been to Stanford? You might study in the Cecil Green Library. Have you been to MIT? Possibly been by Cecil Green building there. And yes, he did own that beautiful house at UBC, which he then donated. They named a residence after him for good measure.

Cecil is 2nd from right among the TI founders

And next time you go to Science World, possibly for the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, stop in the front foyer and take a look at Cecil's picture. He helped save Science World, along with Milt Wong, Haig Farris and others. He just turned 100 years old and Haig was at his party, supplying me with these pictures. He has been a friend of Haig's for many years, fishing with him almost every summer until a few years ago. Can you imagine the stories he must have?


Cecil in foreground with David Strangway (former UBC President) on left and Haig Farris on right

One last thing - I was married at Cecil Green Park at UBC (the house that was his) on August 6th (Cecil's birthday). At the time (1993), I had not yet met Haig and had no idea who Cecil was. It must be some crazy cosmic coincidence that will allow me to find and fund the next TI right here in Vancouver. Which one of you is the next Cecil Green?


Cecil blows out his 100 candles

Random Thoughts -

- Why Don't They Play Sudden Death Overtime? - I talked elections last time, figuring that I could comment on the impact of the US Election results prior to our election here in Canada. Then a bunch of old people in Palm Beach Florida couldn't follow an arrow and look at the mess they're in now. Could we have a tie? Three hundred and one seats and five parties, sure. Imagine this scenario: 125 seats Liberal, 125 seats Alliance, 25 seats Bloc, 25 seats NDP and Joe Clark. Joe becomes the most powerful man in Canada, the de facto PM. His coalition choice puts that group in power. What sweet revenge that would be, eh?

- Gorged on Tech - I attended the Deutsche Bank Alex Brown Tech 2000 conference in Baltimore this week. Alex Brown, Hambrecht and Quist and Robertson Stephens were the original technology only investment banks. Attending any of these IBank's events is a must if you need to get to the heart of what's happening in tech. 2500 patrons (DBAB's corporate finance, analyst and support staff along with invited mutual fund, venture capital and institutional investor clients) whiz between 5 concurrent streams of ½ hour presentations by all the top public technology companies and a few dozen up and coming private companies backed by the top VC's in the land. What's the real story in semiconductor markets? (Slight oversupply, but demand still strong everywhere but the US) Where are content distribution networks headed? (hypergrowth, as the optical buildout will just increase demand for more bandwidth hogging data) What's the latest, greatest disruptive technology? (holographic crystal optical switches… Puts MEMS companies out of business)

You can't help but come away from these events feeling like this is where the game is played at a higher level. There were no lightweights in the crowd. The top tier IBanks and the top tier VCs in the US are the NHL. Everything else is a farm league. I'm not talking about technology innovation, where Canada and other nations outside of the US are as good as or better at coming up with the concepts and products. I mean the finance side of the coin. Like it or not, you need this part as much as you need the innovative engineers and scientists to make it big and these guys/gals make the biggest. As the cliché goes, "I was just happy to be there."


What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday

 



Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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