Nothing Less Than Excellence: How Organizational Leadership Informs the Core Values of Top Tech Firms
February 4, 2015
Tech companies are famous for their pioneering mindsets, their creative-thinking leaders, and their fast-growth and revenues. But amidst all that innovation and growth, technology firms do hold steady to some things- their core values. And in fact, while many companies have nothing in common at first glance, they actually stay true to some similar core values as defined by their organizational leadership.
In the graphic below, we’ve illustrated the core values that seem to underline America’s most successful tech firms - but we’ve also pointed out which firms have flourished by staying true to the unique values of their founders and senior management. For example, Amazon is well-known for its razor thin margins, and as Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your margin is my opportunity”; in this case, frugality is a value that sets Amazon apart.
Similarly, Apple’s technology is synonymous with its minimal, elegant, and functional design. Steve Jobs, a famous proponent of simplicity, once noted that “it takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
When exploring this graphic, it’s also clear how two radically different companies can somehow share the same core values. For example, Google and Amazon’s core competencies are completely different – the former focusing on the delivery of all the world’s information, the latter on the delivery of all the world’s goods – yet they share the core value of speed.
Similarly, one of the most common core values among tech companies is ethics and good corporate citizenship, something believed in by Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Oracle. Oracle and Microsoft also mention integrity and honesty specifically, while Facebook and Google specifically value democracy. As Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, put it, “When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place.”
Of course, most tech companies make their mark on the world by thinking big, so it’s no wonder that Amazon, Oracle, Google, and IBM all list innovation as a key value. But a word of caution from Larry Ellison at Oracle: “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.”
There are some surprises among the core values in tech companies. For example, Apple believes in the value of saying “no”: “We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.”
Google, meanwhile, emphatically says “yes” to fun: “Our founders built Google around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun.” Not too surprising for a company that provides free snacks and lets its employees bring their dogs to work.
And finally, one of the most commonly named core values is also one of the simplest. No, it’s not simplicity- it’s excellence, though different businesses know it by different names. Apple believes that “we’re on the face of the earth to make great products,” while Google knows that “great just isn’t good enough.” Excellence is valued by Google, Oracle, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM, and Oracle’s Core Values point to the importance of excellence and quality in day-to-day work processes as the basis for improvement.
How Kansas City is Finding Its Place among Tech Excellence
Closer to home, many of the prominent tech companies in and around Kansas City have been influenced by the big name companies described above. Kansas City-area businesses like Cerner, Garmin, and H&R Block are thriving in what’s quickly become known as “Silicon Prairie.” From 1990-2010, Kansas City had the third highest increase overall in high-tech startup density among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States; when that same ranking was based only on information and communications technology, Kansas City ranked first.
National technology companies are tuned in to the development of Silicon Prairie; for example, Google made Kansas City the first city in the United States to receive and implement Google Fiber services, a move that has furthered Kansas City’s status as a haven for startups. Similarly, Think Big Partners (in partnership with Microsoft Ventures) and Sprint (in partnership with Techstars) have both launched accelerators in Kansas City, pointing to Kansas City’s “up-and-coming tech community” as a major factor in this decision (a recent LinkedIn study found that the top skill category among Kansas City residents was computer skills).
As the Kansas City tech scene becomes more and more established, we can look forward to seeing many impressive projects and developments come out of “Silicon Prairie,” as well as seeing how the organizational leadership of the new local tech companies continue to build their reputation through their core values.