OOPS, “FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT” DIDN’T WORK
Happy new year but from the looks of it, we will not be so thrilled.
2022 started off like gangbusters when so many events which I am acquainted with started making the news. Where do I start? Let’s start with the conviction of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Elizabeth Holmes, “faking it to make it big”.
Silicon Valley is a place that I spent some 20 years during the heydays of 1980s and 1990s when the silicon chip revolution was taking place. The guy who hired me to Cypress Semiconductor was the founder himself and he was this swashbuckling yet obnoxious guy who also embodied the Silicon Valley way of life at the time, work hard and play hard. This guy, in one of his weekly presentations, upon his return from Japan, showed him jogging in American flag shorts in front of the Japanese Diet, the parliament. Japan was making enormous strides in silicon chip design and manufacturing and we all expected that semiconductor industry as we knew it in the valley was going to disappear unless the US government intervened and helped. He was not interested in hearing that he thought that the entrepreneurial zeal of the valley would take care of itself and beat the Japanese in their game. That was the silicon valley culture I knew and admired. The other thing that he was so proud of was the fact that the people on the cypress board were all these silicon chip luminaries, guys who had started companies and went public, smart investment bankers and patent attorneys, etc. not some schmuck with big fat bank accounts from some inheritance. During those years we had honest, hard working companies like Intel, AMD, Seagate, IBM, Applied Materials, etc. populated by hungry, ambitious, motivated and incredibly smart and driven engineers with honest leaders playing the game fairly. Today’s silicon valley Highway 101 corridor cannot be further away from the idealistic heydays of 80s and 90s but populated by some established companies like fb and alphabet, etc. and start-ups which have business dealings which are minimally nefarious. Case in point is the indictment of a Silicon Valley darling Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and the crash and burn of WeWork’s Adam Neumann. I guess fake it till you make it mentality of today’s Silicon Valley did not hold true for these high flying entrepreneurs.
In the interviews after the verdict, when asked, the jurors found Elizabeth Holmes’ testimony, amongst some 20 others, to be the least credible. How terrible that would be… in the interviews with the jurors they said that one of the smoking guns was a piece of paper with the Pfizer logo vouching for the benefits of this blood testing device when such data did not even exist. Elizabeth, the 19 year Stanford school dropout emulating Steve Jobs with black attire, was clearly faking it to give the impression that this well rounded and reputable pharmaceutical company was endorsing her and the product. No such a thing in fact existed. The technical wizardry she claimed to have invented was only good for those who believed in the aura rather than the technical dd that a company like Pfizer would have done and simply rules out. In fact, Pfizer gave two orders to Elizabeth: get out and stay out. Here’s the thing: this ostensibly innocent and innocuous fake thing of copy and pasting the logo could cost her 20 years in the hammer.
Similarly, almost on the opposite side of the world in a region that I have much personal experience in Kazakhstan, people were uprising to the fake leaders of that country. Sudden increase from 60 Tenge to 120 Tenge of the gas prices prompted protests in the Western oil-rich oil and gas rich province of Kazakhstan. Oil and gas is the only industry that exists in the city which is environmentally in shambles. But interestingly, these proletarian protests sparked even a wider anti-governmental protests on the opposite side of the country, in Almaty. President Tokayev, who replaced Nazarbayev in 2019, initially claimed that they were a bunch of terrorists and bandits, which I have no doubt that there were certainly shit disturbers. But then he charged the head of the security and intelligence Kasim Asimov with high treason, clearly the unrest was not only on the streets but within the state operandi as well. Yesterday I heard that the number of casualties was in the order of 1600. Wow…
During my tenure as the CEO of a metals mining company in Turkey, Kazakhstan is a place that I have invested a lot of time and I have some very fond memories of my days in Kazakhstan. Back in 2010, I was a lecturer at the premier university/ business school in Almaty. I traveled extensively in the country and I have met many of the current government officials, including the previous president Nazarbayev. In many of the dealings that I had with the governments both in Astana, now called Nursultan after Tokayev did I guess as a gesture to Nazarbayev, and also locally, I was constantly reminded that any layoffs or firings was anathematic to the order and peacefulness of the country. However, last week everything changed forever. The government collapsed and, to restore order, Russian troops were called in. This is exactly what the government wanted to avoid. But of course, just like anything else, the inequality and the unfair distribution of wealth in Kazakhstan is so blatantly in your face that even slight increase in the price of gas was enough to take down the government and force Nazarbayev to abandon his chairmanship of the Security Council. The country is vast and rich in mineral resources, oil and gas, and most of it is owned by some very wealthy families. I remember attending many mining meetings and conferences during which we had many discussions to develop these assets and at the end of the conversation almost always we ended up discussing with some government official close to the families. I ran into many times government officials traveling with their families returning from the USA or Europe, all traveling in business class. According to some published reports, 50 percent of the Kazakhstan wealth is owned by a handful number of families. London houses close to 1 billion dollars’ worth of property owned by Nazarbayev and his cronies’ families. Over the years, people hearing about these lifestyles, although not sharing their resentment publicly, have quietly implied their anger discreetly. I do not doubt for a second though that yes indeed there were many agent provocateurs fueling the bloody protests, but the severity and the blatant atrocities committed during the riots suggest that the anger and resentment by the public is something to reckon with. Inequality, injustice and the pent up anger over the years, especially fueled by the pandemic which wreaked havoc with the population, was responsible for these terrible events. So faking it that the former Soviet republic is now a respectable democratic member of the international community has now come to an abrupt end and the chickens are coming home to roost.