BC Tech For Sale?

In an earlier topic I posed the question “who are the giants in BC”, seeking to prompt whatever readership I might have to help identify the important figures in BC. As I pointed out in that topic, I believe British Columbians don’t celebrate our leaders, don’t take pride in what we are capable of accomplishing. In a similar vein, I want to consider the recent acquisitions of BC corporations.

Last week, Intel decided to acquire the gaggle of PMC Sierra emigrants that formed West Bay Semiconductors in 1999. In a similar move, Business Objects splurged and purchased local reporting software success Crystal Decisions. Great, right? Some home town entrepreneurs strike it big, and somewhere a venture capitalist gets both his wings and a liquidation event. Everybody wins.

But consider a similar story: in mid-2000, Intel acquired local communications software developer Trillium Digital Systems. Trillium, a leader in producing standards-compliant communications protocol software, developed software required to implement the hardware backend driving today’s modern telcos. Trillium was especially popular in its industry, due primarily to its support for a variety of hardware platforms. However, after the acquisition Trillium became an Intel-only shop, shedding bales of valuable intellectual property in the process, to please its new corporate sugar daddy. But when the hard times hit, Intel sold Trillium to Continuous Computing Corporation for a conveniently undisclosed sum.

What’s sad about the Trillium story is that an otherwise healthy company chose to be acquired, and then driven into the ground by a foreign parent company. On the one hand, it was probably a good strategy for Intel – after all, they managed to eliminate support for their competitors’ products. But on the other hand, it really sucked for the large numbers of local engineers and software developers that lost their jobs, and the local companies that benefited indirectly from Trillium’s past level of performance.

The question is this: do British Columbian companies look to sell out too fast, rather than try to become the world leader in their industry? Do we talk a good game about building world-class companies, but lose our nerve when presented with a cheque? Will I be here lamenting the decline of West Bay and Crystal Decisions in a year or two?