|A Silicon Valley
Story with a 60's Twist
Something is happenin here
Amid the great Internet gold rush in Silicon Valley and all the .com millionaires, there is another story unfolding too, a story that still glitters with gold but that also carries the torch for high ideals and human values. Even here.
He's a draft resistor from the Vietnam War era. She's a veteran of Haight Ashbury and Woodstock. When Terry and Sandy Lillie got married in 1988, they made a vow to the invited guests as well as to one another, that "our love will be not just a private pool for us, but a fountain from which all of you may come and drink."
So when he (an electrical engineer with a background in Internet security) and she (a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with over 20 years of experience in counseling and psychotherapy) decided to start an Internet business together in the summer of 1994, they named it OMIX: OM for the spiritual and IX for the technical dimension of their intention. They wanted to create a company that expressed their ideals as well as being financially successful, a company that could show the world that good business and a commitment to human values can coexist and even thrive together. And that is exactly what they did.
This isn't the story of a meteoric rise to riches in the .com world. It took almost 6 years and the faith of Job to persist through months on the edge of bankruptcy, months on end when they could not pay employees, emptied their retirement accounts and mortgaged their home to the hilt. But they never took a dime of venture capital, because they didn't want their company to be governed only by the drive for profits. And in the end, they say, they've been rewarded for their faith and persistence beyond their wildest dreams.
OMIX is not a Utopian community. It's an Internet professional services company in Menlo Park, California, creating custom next generation Web sites and software applications for other companies. But if you talk to the 45 people who work there, it might be hard to find out otherwise.
They will tell you that, thanks to Terry's technical genius and Sandy's psychology background, OMIX gives them the opportunity to work with all the latest, coolest technologies as they emerge, without having to spend a moment's energy on politics. There simply are NO politics at OMIX.
The Lillies believe that hierarchical organizations breed internal competition, making people unsatisfied and unhappy. So OMIX is organized in circles, not pyramids, fostering an atmosphere of mutual support instead of the usual scramble for higher positions.
Titles are also avoided at OMIX, for the same reason. Employees get titles for dealing with customers and for their resumes, but inside OMIX the Vice President of Sales is just "the sales guy" and the Chief Operating Officer is mostly "mom". (Even her business card says "Chief Operating Officer/Mom").
Salaries are competitive at OMIX, but they don't increase in the traditional way. There are no formal salary reviews, just an ongoing awareness of what each person is contributing, with adjustments made frequently, as appropriate and possible.
Some employees, who came to OMIX as inexperienced trainees but quickly developed into full contributors, have doubled their salaries within a year. Others increased more slowly. But very rarely have employees had to ask for salary increases before they were offered. When asked about their compensation, however, employees have been known to say things such as, "To tell you the truth, I think Im way overpaid," and "I really think that Harold should get a raise before I do," and "Are you sure you can afford it? Because I can wait, you know."
OMIXians (as they call themselves) have periodic Employee Conferences, which are not evaluations but opportunities to get the undivided attention of Terry and Sandy to communicate about anything of importance to the employee. These conferences provide an opportunity to offer suggestions, discuss preferences and goals, express appreciation, and also explore any difficulties that may be occurring. In general, OMIX employees view Employee Conferences as a treat.
OMIXians work in private or semi-private offices, with a large central office area kept open for larger meetings and recreation (because thats what the employees like, says Sandy). The Living Room, as it's called, has a pool table, foosball table, ping pong table, weight machine, and punching bag, along with a television and comfortable couches from Terry and Sandy's home.
OMIX offers flexible hours, generous stock options, and other things that many in Silicon Valley have come to provide. But for the people who work at OMIX, some of whom stayed through months when they were not paid, turning away the headhunters who pursued them and remaining loyal long before the company achieved its current financial success for these people, OMIX is much more than a good place to work.
Jackson Browne sings of the empty, soulless values "between the longing for love, and the struggle for the legal tender." OMIX is what the Lillies, a couple of flower children from the 60s, created when they grew up in an effort to bridge that gap. It is their dream come true, their vision of a better world. And it works.
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