At first glance Federal Express and Netscape seem to have little in common. Little, that is, except for Jim Barksdale.
Barksdale, a former Memphian who has received accolades from a string of business and technology watchdogs, came back to the Bluff City on Tuesday to speak at The Orpheum to a packed room of tech-heads and would-be entrepreneurs. Barksdale, as keynote speaker for the Chamber of Commerces Memphis Technology Summit, entertained all present with a brand of folksy humor not expected from a guy who made his fortune in wireless telephones, package shipping, and Internet searching.
"If you see a snake, do not call a committee on snakes, do not make a phone call about the snake, do not send e-mails about the snake - kill the snake," Barksdale said to the group, paraphrasing Ross Perot and explaining the management theory that he used while taking Netscape from 100 employees to 3,000. Barksdale went on to highlight two additional "snake" rules used by Netscape, these not derived from Perot.
"The second snake rule is this, Never play with dead snakes."
After pausing for a moment while the crowd laughed, Barksdale explained that some employees tend to rehash the death of an idea, a.k.a. a dead snake."
"The third snake rule," said Barksdale, "is this -- All opportunities start off looking like a snake. If its not a problem, dont kill it. But if it is a problem and you can fix it, you can provide a service to someone else, and they might even pay for it."
This third snake rule is the one that Barksdale said played most heavily during the early days at Netscape.
Operationally speaking, there are few similarities between FedEx and Netscape. One, the international shipping giant that made overnight delivery a reality and the other, the communications company that made surfing the web possible for the technology challenged. But besides Barksdale, and according to him, both companies took advantage of converging technologies and this was the theme of his speech.
"Converging technologies are two or more technologies that come together at the right time," explained Barksdale, picking up on the theme of the day-long workshop the Chamber of Commerce had arranged to highlight the advantages Memphis offers to technology companies.
Ending his speech, Barksdale offered three pieces of advice: "First, figure out what youre interested in, then figure out what road to take, and watch out for any snakes in the road."