As Lane receives the David Packard Medal of Achievement, he encourages belief in Silicon Valley, education, and entrepreneurship as the best hope for America.
What do Meg Whitman, Eric Schmidt, Mark Benioff, Tim Shriver, former Utah Senator Bob Bennett, Marc Andreessen, and John Chambers all have in common? At first glance--not a thing. It would take some digging to figure out that they're all connected in one way or another to HP chairman and Kleiner Perkins managing partner Ray Lane, who was honored Tuesday night with TechAmerica's David Packard Medal of Achievement. The list of previous recipients reads like a who's who of Silicon Valley as well as the high tech industry. The award recognizes technology business leaders for lifetime contributions to the tech industry, society, and humanity.
TechAmerica held the event at the Sharon Heights country club, just a stone's throw from the Stanford University campus. Both in the before-dinner conversation and in the speeches, there was no mistaking the bent of the crowd. Largely, but not exclusively conservative, these were Silicon Valley's elite, and one thing they believe in is the potential for unfettered American-style innovation to right anything that might be wrong with the country. In Lane's case, there's plenty of action to back it up.
As the managing partner of Kleiner Perkins, Lane has taken the venture capital firm in unexpected directions. Venture capitalists have their formulas for success, and that typically rules out capital- intensive businesses like automotive. Lane broke that formula and invested in Fisker Automotive, which makes the hybrid Karma.
Never missing a chance to boost one of his investments, Lane had a 2012 Karma sitting at the entrance to the evening's dinner. You didn't have to be a car buff to stop and wonder at the Karma. The four door sports car is nothing if not beautiful. With hints of styling from the BMW six series and touches that evoke Porsche, the car is unique. Its roof is a series of solar panels, and based on its styling, the car looks like it should be a two door coupe. With range of 50 miles on a charge and 250 miles when its gas engine is in use, the $100,000 Karma won't end up in every driveway. But Lane says they hope to sell 2000 this year and 10,000 to 12,000 globally in 2012. Hooray for Silicon Valley.
In his speech, Lane asked the gathered to believe in the church of Silicon Valley as the best hope for America. He also reminded them that much of what makes the valley great ties to the country's unique research institutions. Lane chairs the board of trustees of Carnegie Mellon , and serves on the board of governors of his alma mater, West Virginia University. In his remarks, his passion for education led to his one fairly mild swipe at Washington, when he encouraged the gathered, when considering contributions to their favorite politicians, to double the check and write it instead to their favorite research universities. Lane assured them that their money would be spent much more wisely.
Lane has given back in somewhat unexpected ways too. When Tim Shriver asked him to get involved in the Special Olympics, Lane says it took him a bit to understand just how powerful the program is. He now not only gets it, he embraces it, and serves as the vice chairman of Special Olympics International.
Of course it wasn't lost on Lane that the medal he was being honored with bears the name of an HP founder. And while it does, the distinction is certainly not uniquely an HP award. Since its inception in 1959, the award has gone to notables at IBM, Motorola, Intel, Digital Equipment, EDS, Symantec, Adobe, Qualcomm, and others.
In his speech, Lane felt compelled to answer the question: Why HP? His answer was that HP is Silicon Valley and the Valley is HP. HP simply matters. "I have other things to do and Meg Whitman has other things to do, but HP matters," Lane said.
And with that he promised to restore the spirit of HP that David Packard had worked tirelessly to imbue in the company.
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