High-Tech Hot Shots Give Advice to Tony Blair

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A risk-taking culture and close ties with universities are big reasons for the success of the U.S. computer industry, some of Silicon Valley's brightest stars told Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday.

Blair, on a mission to find out the secrets of the U.S. high-tech sector's success and apply the lessons in Britain, traveled to the heart of California's Silicon Valley to trade ideas with some of the sharpest minds in the business.

Chief executives around the table included Steve Jobs of computer maker Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), John Chambers of network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), Hector Ruiz of chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Jonathan Schwartz of computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. (SUNW).

Blair's visit to Silicon Valley came on the heels of a visit in June by George Osborne, a senior member of Britain's opposition Conservative Party, who questioned why Britain had produced no Internet giants like Yahoo! (YHOO) or Google (GOOG).

Osborne's comments were sharply criticized by British researchers who said some exciting companies were starting to emerge from the country's universities.

"We're trying in our way in Britain to make sure the UK is a dynamic, innovative country," Blair told the high-tech leaders.


The U.S. business leaders told Blair one of the reasons for Silicon Valley's success was that risk-taking was viewed as a virtue and failure was not seen as a black mark.

"In the U.S. and especially in Silicon Valley, if you have taken a risk and you fail, you in fact become more interesting and potentially more valuable because now you know something," Sun Microsystems' Schwartz told reporters after the meeting.

"Frankly, if you hop over the pond [to Europe] you end up with a very, very different perception of risk and how risk should be viewed," he said.

Shantanu Narayen, president of software maker Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE), added, "If you looked at the people around the room, a number of us had gone from company to company and each of us probably had one massive failure ... whether it was a company we founded or a project we invested in, and yet that really didn't come in the way of us or the companies achieving the success that they have."

Schwartz also cited the close ties between Silicon Valley companies and the region's universities. The high-tech industry grew up around Stanford University and many companies also have ties with the University of California, Berkeley.

He said it would be a good idea for government leaders such as Blair to keep Web logs, or blogs — online journals people use to express opinions, post pictures and share experiences.