Some similes and metaphors capture the imagination and resonate for years after they were first uttered.
A few months ago my colleague Brian Fuller wrote lyrically about some of the outspoken characters of the semiconductor industry from yesteryear. While we mourn the passing of some, others are not gone and nor are they forgotten.
Brian specifically mentioned Joe Costello, who was the charismatic CEO of Cadence for a ten-year period from 1987 to 1997. And Brian could not refrain from referencing "the dog food line."
It is remarkable how an apparently harmless metaphor about the EDA industry has endured so.
"What is the dog food line?" I hear some of you ask.
For those that don't remember; back in the last century it was the tradition that a CEO panel discussion was held every year in front of a large audience at the Design Automation Conference. And in June 1995 Costello was on that panel and spoke about the need for EDA companies to draw down more of the value they enabled customers to create. As I remember it, he likened the three market leaders in EDA – which were then as now Cadence, Mentor Graphics and Synopsys – to three dogs hovering over one bowl of dog food. I think it was Aart de Geus, then CEO of Synopsys, who came back with the quick response that if Costello thought his company was a dog it deserved to feed on dog food.
I am sure Costello was trying to make a valid point about EDA companies needing to grow the market that they live on, rather than fighting each other over one fixed pie, but the connotations of the word dog immediately overshadowed the intellectual arguments. Referring to yourself and your peers as dogs is one thing but the implication that the business that comes your way from customers is dog food is probably worse.
Costello had been some kind of EDA wunderkind up until that point. Thereafter he continued to perform well and received praise from Chief Executive magazine as the top performing CEO in North America in 1997. Nonetheless, Costello left Cadence in 1997.
But Costello is not one of Fuller's "lost voices" and is still in business as president and CEO of a company called Orb Networks and he is still in the EDA business as a member of the board of directors of Oasys Design Systems.
If you are based in California and you want to ask him about the dog food incident or other aspects of marketing, technology business and entrepreneurship, there is an opportunity coming up at an evening event being organized by the EDA Consortium at Cadence's offices in Seely Avenue, San Jose, on Wednesday, May 1.
Costello will be in conversation with long-time EDA executive and investor Jim Hogan and sharing secrets on how to communicate a compelling company story. There will be a question and answer session after about an hour-long interview. It could be interesting and you never know; some pearls of wisdom revealed there might resonate for another 18 years, just as the dog-food reference has done.