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From 'food insecure' to securing food

newsmaker Brocade CEO Michael Klayko, whose less privileged beginnings spurred his passion for education and fighting hunger, says companies should "just get involved" in philanthropy.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Journalist on

newsmaker "It doesn't matter how you get involved, just get involved!" is Michael Klayko's principle when it comes to corporate philanthropy.

Mike Klayko

Last year, the Brocade CEO chaired the Second Harvest Food Bank 2010 Holiday Food and Fund Drive. He challenged fellow tech companies to compete against each other to raise more money and collect more food. By the end of the drive, the Food Bank managed to raise US$11.1 million and 1.6 million pounds of food for non-profit agencies in San Jose and San Francisco.

Aside from fighting hunger, education is his other passion--especially helping children under fifth grade to not fear mathematics and science and preparing them for the engineering discipline in university.

In his recent trip to Singapore, Klayko sat down with ZDNet Asia to talk about how the networking industry has been impacted by smartphones. He also explained why the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses is not as scary as Y2K, and shared his thoughts on attracting young talent to Brocade and retaining them.

What brings you to this part of the world?
Singapore is an incredibly important market for us and Brocade has doubled the number of people here in the last year.

I'm here for a couple of things, actually. First, I am sitting on a council in the United States which looks at other countries from a competitive standpoint. Singapore has been voted by economic forums as the No. 1 place to do business in. So I come here to understand why. If you look at the economic development here, it's something to be jealous of for many countries.

I'm also here with my management team for various reasons. The team is visiting Asia and we will be talking to about 2,500 to 5,000 customers about Brocade, our products, our strategies and where we see the industry going. From here, we'll be going to Kuala Lumpur where there will be a large group of senior management throughout the region presenting our products, vision, strategy and so forth.

Can you share the competitive advantages you have learned here?
I think there's a couple of things that are very good. First is, from an area standpoint, the tax policies here are incredibly friendly for business. There is also the infrastructure in terms of large broadband implementation and the thought process of thinking ahead for the next five to ten years. All these things are incredibly important.

For me, it's always good to understand high growth areas around the world. Singapore seems to be drawing a lot of what I call "high IQ people", there is lot of intelligence, scientists around and this is going to require a lot of computing power, storage, networking products and so forth. Here, there are human genome projects, pharmaceutical projects--large consumable products--so it's a vibrant market for us as well.

You have been in the industry for many years and you joined Brocade by way of the Rhapsody Networks acquisition. Since your days at Brocade, what are some of the biggest industry changes that you have observed?
You're right, I've been in the industry for a long time, since 1975 (laughs). I think nobody could have predicted the amount of storage network traffic growth and the rapid adoption of virtualized data centers. Look at the rate of adoption and change, even in the last five years, how fast and how large data storage and network traffic have become.

It was also difficult to predict that there would be a lot of smartphones carried around which cause an enormous amount of data to be created. In fact, data traffic in the next three years is going to grow another seven times. That is equivalent to creating 16 billion DVDs worth of information in a month. Imagine that, 16 billion DVDs of information created every month forever and the number is going up. A lot of this traffic will be driven by video.

The good part about this is that it provides enormous opportunities for companies like us. I like to think of ourselves as the challenger brand. We challenge the status quo, how they think, the architecture they currently have, and we back it up with products to help them solve these very daunting products to help them these days.

Recently, a Gartner analyst said companies should not choose a single vendor for their networking environment and instead they should find alternatives. I guess this is good news for companies such as Brocade. Can you share what you think about this issue?
I think it's a great idea. I love standards. I think it allows people to adopt technologies more rapidly, it allows vendors to compete on a more level playing field. Companies should have multiple vendors for Ethernet because it's such a large piece of their connectivity that alternatives are a good way to make sure they are getting the best-of-breed products.

In the networking industry, IPv6 is a hot topic now. We know that people have been talking about it for years but it is only now that IPv4 is on the brink of exhaustion. Do you think companies are well prepared for it?
No, they're not. One of the things that people didn't predict is the increase of the amount of devices that are connected to the Internet--even refrigerators now have IP addresses. IPv4 addresses will be exhausted this year and this will force people to move to IPv6.

Going back to our Brocade One philosophy--simplicity--we are addressing this through a layer 4-7 (layers of a communications system described by the Open System Interconnection model) product through the application controller. Other people do it in the router, switches and so forth but we don't think that's the right way. We had made a layer 4-7 product which was quite successful. What we've done now is build a translator in our 12.3 version release which allows companies to use both IPv4 and IPv6 on it, allowing a seamless migration.

Would you say the IPv6 scare is similar to Y2K?
I don't think so. For Y2K, we didn't know what we didn't know and that was the issue. I don't think that is the concern now with IPv4 exhaustion because your smartphone is not going to stop working tomorrow just because we've run out of address. However it could cause industry consternation if we don't have an expanded address space.

So you think it is less serious than Y2K?
For Y2K, I think there was a little bit of fraught panic because we didn't know what would happen. With IPv4, we know what the problem is and we know the solution. With Y2K, you take all these precautions but you didn't know whether they were going to work after the clock strikes midnight.

With IPv6, if you do A, B, and C, you know that D will work. So there is predictability with the migration of IPv4 to 6 but with Y2K there was a lot of unpredictability and uncertainty.

Brocade was in the list of Top 100 companies to work with in 2011. I'm interested in learning how Brocade achieves this, and also how the company retains talent, because even Google is paying employees to stop them from jumping ship to Facebook. Related to this, do you see a trend a trend of young people preferring to work for startups and how do you recruit them?
There are actually two or three questions there. I'll classify them as the Silicon Valley question, the industry question and what's Brocade doing.

Silicon Valley is back. It's always been very competitive I should say. But today, you do have a lot of the 2.0, 3.0 companies out there. We do compete with them for the talent. The fact that the company is sitting in the middle of Silicon Valley and is named one of the top companies to work, helps. It attracts people. For the young people we bring in, we don't just offer competitive rates and salary, we also bring a culture of social responsibility of giving back--social work. A lot of things make up that element of wanting to work here.

In general, I think that when the U.S. was going through the recession period, people hung on to their jobs very tightly. Now that there is a more comfortable level with the economy springing back, people are now looking at developing their careers and moving on. I find this happening all over the world, not just in the technology industry.

There are two elements to what we're doing here at Brocade. One is we create a great world environment and culture. We don't go out and try to win the Best 100 award but our employees nominate us and say that it actually is one of the best places to work.

We also bring in a lot of folks right out of college. Somewhere between 200 to 250 people a year come right out of the university to work for our offices all over the world. That's something we started five years ago--bringing in new people who challenge the way that we think. These people talk about social media and what's happening here and there. From a product development standpoint, we know what products we need for the generation that will be using them for generations. That's pretty important if you think about it.

We also have a university development program where we teach things that they don't teach in college. In college, they teach you how to be book-smart. Here, we teach you how to operate in business and how to get things done. It's a worldwide project and we're in our eleventh class.

Imagine, if you're an engineer, you may be the smartest engineer in the room but if you can't communicate your ideas, you can't get your ideas sold. So we teach people about public speaking. That's the number one fear, especially if you're an engineer. Sometimes they go, "I don't understand why you don't understand my technical argument."

We also have a culture that in the company where employees can come in and argue with me. I have no issue with that but you just have to be right if you want to argue.

At the end of the day, the biggest expense and the biggest asset is the people in your organization.

I read your blog post about your involvement with the Second Harvest Food Bank campaign. Can you share what tech companies can do to help with lower-income families?
First off, you have to get personally involved. The reason I chaired the Second Harvest Food Bank and raised money is interesting. In California, between the two counties--San Jose and San Francisco--is Silicon Valley. It has some of the wealthiest places in the world but one out of four people in the Bay Area go hungry. In the rest of the United States, it is one out of six.

Part of getting involved is awareness. I tell my CEO friends and executives, "It doesn't matter how you get involved, just get involved!"

For me, I grew up very poor. I didn't realize that it was actually called "food insecure" which means I didn't get three full meals a day. That's why it's a passion for me.

The other thing that I get very involved in is education--educating young folks. Actually, I target getting people fifth grade and younger involved in mathematics and science.

The issue in the U.S. is that in terms of competitiveness, we see 70,000 engineers graduate a year but in China and India, 700,000 engineers graduate a year. The U.S. also has a visa plan which is not so friendly. If you are a foreign student who graduates from Stanford University and gets a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, they send you back home versus stapling a green card to it.

I am also actively involved in the education process to convince girls that it's OK to be smart in mathematics and science in fifth grade, and to move on and get an engineering degree.

"Get involved", is what I say to folks.

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