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Growth That Doesn’t Quit

How do you stay on the growth track during an economic slump? Some of the best new thinking comes from VeriSign and BEA Systems, two Silicon Valley companies that have figured out how to be recession-proof.

Alfred Chuang is hiring. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have amazed anyone. But today, the fact that Chuang’s Web-software company, BEA Systems, is continuing to expand makes him a rarity in Silicon Valley. He is a chief executive with an intact growth story.

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Stratton Sclavos is hiring. As CEO of VeriSign Inc., he added a net 145 people to his payroll in the third quarter of 2001 — and he continues to look for capable engineers and salespeople. His Mountain View, California company is a major player in Internet security and validation; it also dominates the Internet domain-name business.

Last month, Chuang, Sclavos, and two other Silicon Valley CEOs spent an evening on stage in Palo Alto trading growth strategies for the downturn. The panel discussion was sponsored by Silicon Valley’s leading events group, the Churchill Club, and was moderated by Fast Company.

The event was marked by hard-nosed realism and reaffirmation of Silicon Valley’s ability to keep innovating in tough times. Sclavos set the tone early by explaining that his company needs to answer this question every day: Are we relevant, and are we necessary? Ideally, he said, VeriSign — or any other company — should be selling things so vital that they would be the last things customers sacrifice before shutting off the lights entirely.

Chuang defended the importance of having a strong sales force, especially in a tough economy. Sales are the oxygen that your company feeds on, he observed. And when asked what employees should do to make themselves indispensable in a time of cutbacks, he had a simple, blunt answer: Make sure you’re in the line of sight that connects product development to customer sales and service. If you aren’t associated somehow with building or selling products, your job isn’t that important.

As philosophical as the CEOs could be, there were some downright earthy moments too. “My first boss in the Valley told me that every organism ultimately has just two parts,” Sclavos remarked at one point. “The teeth and the ass. Whatever you do, make sure that you’re the teeth.”

For a Webcast of the entire event, visit the Churchill Club site. For a quicker overview, click on the following links to read about Stratton Sclavos’s approach at VeriSign or Alfred Chuang’s approach at BEA.

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VeriSign: How to Get Big and Stay Fast

BEA Systems: A Study in Sustainability

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