The first company to rent out this entire ski resort, arguably Lake Tahoe's most expensive and exclusive, didn't even exist a decade ago...
SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — The first company to rent out this entire ski resort, arguably Lake Tahoe’s most expensive and exclusive, didn’t even exist a decade ago. But such is the fame of its name and the magic of its reported wealth that workers here immediately began dreaming of getting their own tiny shares.
Cashiers at the Mountain Nectar smoothie and coffee bar shined the tip jars. Real-estate agents doubled their normal staffs and photocopied dozens of extra brochures of luxury homes and condos for sale. Bar owners stocked up on fancy wines.
But those expecting a bonanza went away disappointed.
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The Google employees came aboard standard commercial buses. (It was cheaper than flying but meant that employees left company headquarters at 5:30 a.m. for the five-hour drive.)
The rooms were crammed to maximum occupancy. (It wasn’t unusual for strangers to be assigned to share double beds.)
And though most of the employees were at the resort or in transit for 36 hours, the company provided only two cafeteria-style, buffet meals. (The resort’s restaurants were too pricey.)
That’s Silicon Valley five years after a giddy boom and four years after a gut-wrenching crash. It’s back — but lacking some swagger. It’s making money again for its investors and employees, but there is a chastened sense.
Those were the days
Everyone here remembers the days when MicroStrategy Chief Executive Michael Saylor whisked his company off on a post-holiday Caribbean cruise and when companies whose names have been forgotten were so flush with cash that they hired Cirque du Soleil, Elvis Costello and the B-52’s for their bashes.
But even though Google shares are now worth $49.4 billion — more than the combined value of Ford Motor, Safeway and Kmart — its employees didn’t throw money around.
“The Google guys were the opposite of what you might expect,” a sales clerk in Squaw Valley said. “They were grumbling that the $2.65 price of a ChapStick was too much. Go figure.”
Google employees jokingly grumbled that the mandatory event was somewhat like camping. But they said hanging out with co-workers in an informal setting, watching their bosses fall in the snow and dancing to 1980s music helped build camaraderie.
“It was quite a production, but it was great, and I got to see people in a way I had never before,” said Stacy Sullivan, Google’s human-resources director.
In the new dot-coms, just because you have money doesn’t mean you have to flaunt it. Tech executives say a humbler and healthier attitude toward riches permeates the industry now.
Meanwhile, evidence is abundant that money is pouring back into dot-coms. For the first time in four years, venture capitalists boosted their investments in Internet firms, handing more than $20.4 billion in 2004 to entrepreneurs with the next new ideas.
“Enthusiasm” a concern
Some people say the resurgence makes them nervous, with more of 1999 in the current atmosphere than they’d like.
“There is a little creep back, and I’m concerned about this enthusiasm without evidence,” said Prem Uppaluru, the chief executive of Transera Communications, which provides technology to companies that outsource operations.
Others say that though things may be looking up, Silicon Valley still has a long way to go.
Stephen Levy, the director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, said that soaring company profits and stock prices haven’t translated to job growth. The state is still down about 200,000 jobs since 1999. Still, in 2004, for the first time since the bust, employment remained relatively steady instead of falling.
A report released by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a coalition of local government and corporate officials, concluded, “There is something profoundly different this time around: How we grow has changed. The technology revolution and intense global competition have led Silicon Valley companies to achieve high productivity gains without adding to their payroll.”
For the past 50 years, Silicon Valley has been at the center of booms and busts. Whether Google will lead it to a new era of prosperity is a subject of much debate.
The company has picked up many top employees of other Internet upstarts of the dot-com era, and everything on its campus is geared toward innovation and efficiency. Free meals are efficient. The doctor and massage therapist on site make sure employees are feeling their best. Snack rooms are stocked with healthful treats. The company also encourages bonding by requiring that workers, even managers, share hotel rooms when they travel.
“We actually like the density. We like people to spend more time with each other and mingle,” said Sullivan, the human- resources director.
At this month’s corporate get-together at Lake Tahoe, resort workers gawked as roughly 2,500 of the company’s employees arrived, sporting Google logos on their red ski caps, shirts and bags. In addition to room and board, the company paid for skiing, snowboarding, tubing and ice skating.
Instructor Andressa Almeida, 25, looked at the heated white tents being set up for a company party with envy.
“What a great company to take everyone out like this,” Almeida said.
Google’s party featured four theme rooms with dancing, drinking and hors d’oeuvres. The Googlers were friendlier than they had expected, the resort workers said, and let them crash various after-parties that lasted until dawn. Even without spending extravagantly, they said, Google still throws a mean party.