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When ethics and integrity mattered in Silicon Valley

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Anybody who follows the twists and turns of Silicon Valley knows how "bro culture" and issues stemming from "toxic masculinity" are constantly in the headlines these days. The three human resources execs I interviewed as part of my research for 3Com painted a very different picture, from a very different era.

These HR professionals were an essential part of shaping the ethics, integrity, and moral compass that served the company well. In its 30 years, there were few (if any) lawsuits brought that involved HR matters, a true testament to the HR team, the company's code of conduct, and the company's employee training and commitment to culture building.

Debra Engel (who led HR from 1983-1998) shared key insights throughout the book, explaining two important CEO leadership changes: the transitions from Bill Krause to Eric Benhamou and then from Benhamou to Bruce Claflin. She also described how founder Bob Metcalfe personally helped stamp out sexism early on.

Next up, Eileen Nelson (1988-2001, 2008-2010) shared how she helped convince Metcalfe that HR was a necessary part of any successful company. She also related how she helped him learn not to always act on his initial instincts (which led to better decisions). After her first stint at the company, she later returned to manage a totally different 3Com when the company was focused on its role in the H3C partnership with Huawei.

Finally, Gwen McDonald (1989-2002) shared her thoughts on how 3Com seemed to lose its way in its final decade.

I thank them all for their contributions to this book, but more importantly for the roles they played in shaping 3Com into a company that Eric Benhamou would go on to say "had a soul, unlike any other peer company in our era." This revelation--that it is possible for a "soul" to take hold in a corporate setting--is a hopeful and acutely relevant reminder for Silicon Valley companies today.

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