A Superb Company Culture

A couple of years ago I went to a reunion celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of Object Design, Inc. (now part of Progress Software).  I joined ODI as an intern in 1991 while at Babson because a friend at The Weber Group (Larry Weber’s PR firm from the 90’s) told me I should take a job there scrubbing the toilets if I had to because it was such an amazing company.  I only had to work in the mail room, (no, I’m not joking – I literally stuffed and mailed out collateral) but I got my high-tech start there and left in 1996 after product managing the launch of the ObjectStore ODBMS for Windows.

ODI, as we called it, was a rare company.  The intellectual talent across the company was as good as you’ll ever find (and I’ve yet to find since).  Any one of the engineers at ODI would be the “guru” at 99.9% of other software companies out there.  The stuff they did was just mind-numbingly great.

More importantly, the culture there was just as amazing.  People would go out of their way to help each other be successful.  The sales people and engineers and marketers all worked together to build a great business.  While the management team was part of that, the culture at ODI was more from the bottom up than top down.  You saw it in the hallways, when people went into their colleagues’ offices (we all had offices – very few were in cubes and often just temporarily), and in the lunch room.  Nobody was disrespected, and very few honest disagreements turned acrimonious.

The culture stayed that way until just after ODI was named as #1 on the INC 500 list of fastest growing private companies.  Oracle offered $100M or so to buy the company, but the management team turned it down (I was not on the mgt team).  We were going to crush Oracle, certainly!  Oh, the arrogance.  You know what happened next… we started missing our quarterly numbers.  Eventually the investors took over and kicked out the old management team, cut salaries and let go a good portion of the company.  The culture was gone then, but not forgotten.

Looking around that night I saw many familiar faces.  Sure, we all looked a bit older, but most were still looking great after all this time.  Funny how all of our stories to each other last night were about all the good times… the big early deals, the technical breakthroughs, the demos at OOPSLA, etc.  A lot of people came out last night – more than I expected.  One of the ODI Germany sales guys even tried to find a flight in but couldn’t afford the 1,000 Euro airfare from Frankfurt.

The number one refrain I heard was how nobody had landed somewhere that special again in their careers.  Someday I hope to be in a situation where I’m surrounded by so many awesomely talented and truly great individuals.

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