Well, TEK as we know it is no longer. This was a big shock when walking in on Monday morning, more so I’m sure for the 30+ year veterens who gave their entire careers to the place. All of the intentions seem well and good, and I’m sure this was bound to happen sooner or later. Yet there’s still something sad about it, and I can’t deny that part of the reason I took the job originally was because of the homegrown “little big company” spirit of the place. If nothing else, the reaction this week was a pretty powerful statement on the attachment that this community still has to TEK. For me, it was always a little source of pride knowing that I was helping to keep a local economic engine running, helping keep jobs in Oregon, etc. This is all still true, but reading between the lines you just feel that now there is no stopping it slowly becoming less and less so.
Anyway, because most people outside of Portland don’t know the incredible influence this company has had, here is a pretty heartfelt editorial from the Oregonian:
Goodbye, Tektronix. And thank you
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Outside Oregon, the agreement to sell Tektronix Inc. to an East Coast conglomerate was just a blip on the business news wire. But the agreement announced Monday by Tek and its acquirer, Danaher Corp., signals nothing less than the end of perhaps the most remarkable chapter in Oregon business history.
Founded in 1946, Tektronix was the first seedling in the grove — the forerunner, the inspiration and, in many cases, the incubator of scores of other technology companies that employed thousands of Northwesterners and created billions of dollars of wealth. It was the early model of enlightened corporate self-interest, encouraging innovation inside and outside its walls. Eventually it spawned one of the great philanthropic foundations in the region, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, and one of the greatest individual philanthropists in Oregon history, Jean Vollum, the widow of Tek co-founder Howard Vollum.
Oregon claimed to be “the Silicon Forest” in large measure because of Tektronix and later, Intel Corp., which overtook it in terms of employment, revenue, market leadership and just about every measure of business success. The most recent iteration of the graphical map of the Silicon Forest’s roots shows two major centers of gravity — Tektronix and Intel. But Intel never had its corporate headquarters in Oregon, nor does it hold the highest place of honor in discussions of Oregon business history.
Oregon hasn’t had the premier research universities that anchor the nation’s biggest technology hotbeds — Boston’s Route 128, North Carolina’s Research Triangle or California’s Silicon Valley. But it had Tektronix, which sponsored and conducted research in a wide variety of disciplines, from display technology to printers. It spawned instrument makers, software companies, public relations firms — even a furniture company. For decades, the company was Oregon’s mother ship, generous with its support and broad-minded in its outlook.
In recent decades, Tektronix changed — and was forced to change — the way it operated. It sold or spun off auxiliary divisions, took a dimmer view of employees who left and stopped funding so many startups. It fought a battle with insurgent shareholders, laid off employees and slimmed down to its core business of test and measurement. It had become a technology company like so many others around the world, focused primarily on quarterly returns and seizing opportunities in narrow niches.
By the end of the year, if things go according to the companies’ plans, Tektronix will become another division of Washington, D.C.,-based Danaher, a diversified company that already has brands such as Fluke, Gendex, Hart Scientific, Kollmorgen and Pelton & Crane. It will be subject to all of the vagaries that buffet corporate divisions that lie far from headquarters.
But it will always be heir to the greatest name in Oregon’s technology history. And it will always serve to remind us what can happen when a couple of smart, driven and generous people like Jack Murdock and Howard Vollum decide to work together.