Has it really been almost a year since my last post? I suspected I was nearing that milestone, but it’s still surprising to discover it has been so long. Blogs have a natural ebb and flow, governed as much by the irregular rhythms of the day job as inspiration. But this was a pretty big ebb. Maybe catastrophic drought is a better metaphor.
Naturally, my absence was not lost on the spammers. That curious breed who prey on dormant blogs left me with a mountain of weirdly unctuous commentary that I needed to shovel out of the way just to get to the front door. But now that I’ve finally worked my way inside, it’s time to turn up the heat, blow out the cobwebs, and get back to work.
The story of the last year, of course, is the acquisition of Layer 7 by CA Technologies. This explains my extended absence from writing. I’m no less busy than in the past, and indeed often quite a bit more, but I’ve been completely consumed with making this deal a success. So the last year is a blur of integration, customer outreach, some terrific innovations—but not a lot of writing. That changes today.
The number one question people ask—and they ask this quite a bit—is how am I doing at a large company, and more specifically, how is CA? It is a logical question, but one always delivered with a slightly raised eyebrow that really implies just give me the dirt—and the juicer the better.
I respond with the truth. And the truth, to be honest, is quite a bit less salacious than everyone secretly hopes. Everyone knows acquisitions can go spectacularly bad. The cultural explosions can power a small city through a tough eastern winter. People love to hear these bad news stories; it’s somehow wired into our DNA to revel in nasty gossip.
Fireworks are fun, but more often acquisitions simply wither. Often the combination of start-up and Fortune 500 is an impossible calculus of mismatched expectations. In a way, this is a much worse outcome, because although the end is the same, the story is more depressing.
At CA and Layer 7, we are steering clear of these all-too-common disaster scenarios. Against all odds, we seem to be finding a very effective approach that just seems to work well for everyone.
We built a great company at Layer 7, and around this a powerful international brand. This feat is hard to achieve and once there, it is heartbreakingly easy to destroy the results. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than acquirers, and they usually respond with one of two strategies, each taken to extreme. Either they leave their new prize alone, fearful of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, or they embrace it with enthusiasm and their own unique style. The former creates silos that will never come down; but the later can squeeze the vigor out of a start-up until someone notices that the empty shell isn’t moving any longer.
We are all working very hard to find the virtuous middle ground. CA recognizes that the Layer 7 team in Vancouver is a great engine of innovation. So the band stays together, and moreover has the opportunity—really the mandate—to continue to push the envelope around APIs and mobility. We all recognize that we are part of a much larger narrative now. But honestly, this is what excites us most of all.
CA is big but it isn’t overwhelming. I’ve been struck with what a small-big company this actually is. In just seven months, I feel as though I have a good handle on who all of the key players are, and I can pretty much engage anyone I need to and be taken seriously. It’s a level of engagement I never dreamed of at IBM, a company much larger in size and exponentially more complex in organization.
That said, not everything is sunshine and roses. The expense department is convinced I’m really Frank Abagnale. I have big philosophical differences with the Internet policies. And the telephone conference codes are just too long. But I suppose I can adapt.
So the truth is boring, my anecdotes are not sexy, and that’s all a very good thing. Actually a great thing. The numbers are high, opportunity abounds, and there is a sense we can affect real change when change makes sense. My stories about the swashbuckling days of Layer 7 are far more entertaining.
But to hear these, you’ll need to buy me a beer.