Tragedy in Silicon Valley

Last Updated Nov 17, 2008 11:29 AM EST

sid-agrawal.jpgOn Friday, a laid-off worker opened fire with a handgun, killing three employees at SiPort, a Silicon Valley startup. According to reports and police, the victims were Sid Agrawal, the company's chief executive, Brian Pugh, VP of operations, and Marilyn Lewis, head of HR. The gunman was identified as 47 year-old Jing Hua Wu.

The tragedy sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley's tightly knit high-tech community. I guess it's the entrepreneurial culture, and all the networking and job-hopping that goes with it, that makes us all feel as if we're all connected.

My heart goes out to the victims' families and everyone affected by this tragic event.

As it turns out, I met Agrawal in the mid-90s at an Alliance Semiconductor sales event in Monterey. He was VP of marketing at Alliance and a friend, Phil Richards, was VP of sales. I lived nearby and showed up to crash the after-hours party.

My only recollection of a discussion with Agrawal is that he seemed confident and driven, like so many Silicon Valley executives I've come to know over the years. Also, we shared a passion for marketing. That's all I remember about the man.

And yet, another aspect of this tragedy hits close to home. I was CEO of a Silicon Valley startup - InLight Communications - during the dot-com bust. I laid-off 44 employees and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection right around Thanksgiving, seven years ago.

Several of my executives and I spent many months hitting the venture capital circuit and working with our existing investors to try to save the company. It was a rough time for all of us, and I'll never forget the looks on the faces of my employees when I told them I'd failed to raise capital.

And yet, the thought of my life being in danger never occurred to me. It's probably the same for most executives who make hard decisions every day, decisions that affect the lives of thousands of employees and investors.

But according to the San Jose Mercury News, a national study on workplace violence reported that crimes of this nature account for 20 percent of all violent crime, and an average of 500 homicides occur in U.S. workplaces each year. Sobering statistics.

Which makes me wonder: in this tumultuous economic and political climate, what's going through the minds of our nation's entrepreneurs and executives as they face the cold, hard facts of diminishing sales and the need to cut expenses? Whatever their thoughts, I sincerely hope they don't include the added stress of worrying about their safety and the security of their families.

Update 11/17/2008, 8:30 am - According to Valleywag.com, one of SiPort's investors said that Mr. Wu was fired, not laid-off. He also said there had been no layoffs at the company.

(Image of Sid Agrawal courtesy of www.siliconindia.com)