Don Campbell

“A lot of people would consider it a risk to leave Ford for a small upstart company. But in the Valley’s dynamic environment, I knew I wouldn’t have trouble finding a job if things fell through with Interwoven. The demand for skills outshined the risk.”


Age: 33
Company: Interwoven
Position: Partner Solutions Management
Hometown: Dearborn, Michigan
Education: BBA in Computer Information Systems from Eastern Michigan University
Marital Status: Married
Children: An 11-month-old daughter named Abigail
Years in Silicon Valley: almost 2
Hours at Work Each Week: 65 to 70
Email Messages in Inbox: 933
Frequent Flyer Miles: 90,000 on Northwest, 24,000 on United, and 8,000 on American
Lunches Eaten Out Each Week: 1 or 2
Hours of Sleep a Night: 6
Monthly Rent: $1,650 (for a two-bedroom apartment in Mountain View)
Commute: 10 minutes
Monthly Cell Phone Bill: $200
Items in His Silicon Valley Time Capsule: “The purple Yahoo! car that drives around the valley, and the dotcom job advertisements that are shown before movies at the theater.”


If Silicon Valley, teeming with VC cash and startup momentum, is the new economy incarnate, then Dearborn, Michigan, rusting under the weight of a century-old auto industry, is a fading photograph of the old world of work. Home to the Ford Motor Company since 1903, the Detroit region is built upon winning traditions and trusted strategies. Business runs like clockwork there — especially in the computer-systems department at Ford, where Don Campbell began his career a decade ago. “The first program I worked on was older than me,” Campbell says. “I quickly decided that area of Ford wasn’t right for me.”

For the next seven years, Campbell migrated from one internal division to the next, loyally scaling his way up the corporate ladder and amassing skills that he hoped would transfer to a more nimble, cutting-edge company somewhere down the road. In 1998, Campbell found Interwoven, a software-development company in Sunnyvale, California, that had forged a relationship with Campbell’s team in the e-commerce department at Ford Credit. “It occurred to me that if I wanted to go anywhere in an auto company, I had to be an engineer or a finance person,” Campbell says. “I liked Ford, but it was time to move on. I wanted to work for a company whose main products and diving forces were built around my passions: software and computers.”

The moment Don and Sue Campbell accepted Interwoven’s job offer, life changed drastically. The young couple traded its $640 monthly mortgage payments for a drastically smaller apartment in Mountain View that cost $1,650 a month to rent. They also learned that Sue was expecting their first child. “We knew my mom wanted grandkids pretty bad, so I felt guilty when we found out about Abigail after moving to California,” he says. “But we make a huge effort to connect the family across coasts. My mom has come out five times since Abigail was born.”


Since moving westward in July of 1998, the Campbell family has seen considerable progress in the working world around them. When Don joined Interwoven — perhaps best known for the brand new BMW Z3s it offers to incoming engineers — the company boasted 40 employees and a ramshackle headquarters in a refurbished apartment complex. Today, approximately 290 people work at Interwoven, which issued its IPO in October 1999 and now resides in a posh office complex off of Highway 85. As Interwoven’s success has escalated, so has the speed of life for Don and Sue Campbell.

Up early with Abigail, Don usually arrives at work between 8 and 9 a.m. Though he makes an effort to eat dinner with his family each evening, the devoted father spends most nights between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. checking email, drafting white papers, and writing briefs on his laptop and DSL line. As Interwoven continues to add more clients and to prove its mettle as a viable startup venture, Campbell says he expects life to accelerate even more, but he hopes to never lose site of the truly important things in life: “Family is extremely important to us. We will always make time — and a guest bed — for them in Silicon Valley.”

In the following Fast Company interview, Don Campbell provides an outsider’s perspective on work, family, and the future in Silicon Valley:


Would you want your daughter to begin her first job in Silicon Valley today?

In one sense, yes because it’s the most exhilarating and rewarding environment to work in. At the same time, I had previous working experience and a solid relationship with my wife when I arrived in Silicon Valley. I knew how to manage the stress to some degree. I know how good it feels to be part of something spectacular, but I fear that Abigail would have trouble managing such a large degree of stress in her first job.

How do you keep stress from invading your home life?


I have had some problems with stress management. But I’m making an effort to fix the problem by doing things like refusing to check e-mail on Sundays. We went to Lake Tahoe two weekends ago, and I didn’t bring my laptop. It was difficult because I knew things were falling on the floor, but I just didn’t bring it. Sometimes you have to draw the line.

Are your work life and personal life balanced?

My wife and I have a shared vision. We both strongly believe that you have to love what you do at work. And we both do love our work. Perhaps as a result, our lives are tilted more toward work than toward home. I don’t think we’ll keep up this pace forever, but right now there are no spare cycles for anything. We never watch TV. There’s no room for it.


At the same time, we do make room when we need it, and we keep in close communication. For example, my wife and I make a list of shared goals every year. It includes not only financial and professional goals, but plans for trips to Tahoe, Yosemite, Santa Cruz, Napa, and Southern California. We try to stick closely to that list of goals.

How do you maintain contact with your family in Michigan?

Our family is really important, so we’re trying to create ways to remain close with them and stay here for a while. Like when my wife went into labor, I gave all my frequent flyer miles to my mom and she was able to fly out for our daughter’s birth. She’s been out here five times since Abigail was born. It’s not the same as living next to them, but we’re lucky to have supportive families who are willing to travel and who don’t give us guilt trips about being so far away.


My wife also sends a lot of photos. My dad, my mother-in-law, and my grandma are on the Internet, so we trade a lot of email photographs. My wife and I also recently bought a video camera so that we could set up video conferences with our family in Michigan. We put Abigail in front of the camera, and our parents can see her growing up and beginning to talk. We can also hear and see them, so they don’t seem so far away. It’s really neat.

Do you think the speed of life and industry in Silicon Valley is sustainable?

The pace is unbelievably fast, but everyone I know is out here because they feel that they are making history in Silicon Valley. Personally, Interwoven makes me feel like I’m helping to build a sustainable company for the future. I think that people here are interested in equity and money, but many also want to make a difference. I think that’s what drives them and motivates them to keep pace with life.


Silicon Valley is a fertile environment where a lot of companies are growing quickly. Sure, not all of them will be around in a year or two, but I don’t think we are living in a bubble that’s bound to burst. Silicon Valley is a center of innovation. It is ripe with talent and money that allows entrepreneurs to try things knowing that they might fail. But today people don’t view failure as like an end-all occurrence. It’s more of an event. And for many startups, failure isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen.

How does the working atmosphere at Interwoven differ from Ford?

Everyone at Interwoven has a stake in the company, so every single person is really, really interested in solving our problems and making the customer happy. There were some really sharp people at Ford, but there were also some “lifers” who were there just to retire. I think its called an implicit psychological contract. When they started at a big company like Ford, they assumed Ford was going to take care of them until they retired. And that whole model has entirely changed now. Even at Ford, job security isn’t what people thought of 10 years ago.


How is Interwoven structured differently than Ford?

At Ford there were grade levels for everything. You started off at grade 5, and when you were promoted two years later you made grade 6. At grade 9 you got a lease car, and at grade 10 you entered a different level of management with a different bonus structure. Everyone was racing up the grade levels for status. Here, we basically have a manager, director, vice president, and CEO. It’s a lot flatter. I can talk to the CEO about anything. And I deal with my VP on a regular basis. At Ford, I was seven levels removed from management, and the CEO had no idea who I was.

At Interwoven, I feel that I’m learning at a must faster rate. My skill set is right on the cutting edge now, whereas at Ford, I felt somewhat insulated. I just wasn’t exposed to many dynamics of the Ford business — I understood my one very, very small piece, and that was it. At Interwoven, we are still small enough to hold all-hands meetings during which the CEO can give a state-of-the-company address to every employee at once. The structure is much less rigid in Silicon Valley. If you come up with an idea and you want to run with it, nobody impedes your progress or feels threatened, because the opportunities for fulfilling work are overflowing.