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Can the Tandem culture be replicated?

Ron LaPedis


ron apr 2020-1

I’ve been asked if any of the current crop of high-flying firms like Google or Facebook share anything with the original Tandem culture, and my answer is that they don’t.

Tandem was born in a different era, when people were champions and not victims, when companies and employees worked for the good of each other and when the summer of love wasn’t a distant memory.

Tandem was built on dreams of making the world a better place through innovation and fueled by hard work, alcohol, and dare I say it, skinny dipping in the building 3 pool (followed by wet footprints on hallway carpets to who knew where). We worked hard and played hard. The Compaq purchase meant the end of our beer busts and several offices got bigger after the keg refrigerators in them were removed.

ron apr 2020-2

Reproduced from Business Week, July 14, 1980

Does anyone remember that we could bring firearms to work in Cupertino so we could go shooting at lunchtime? Showing off a gun in the lunchroom today would cause mass hysteria and definitely would not end well.

Google workers have either walked out or provided confidential information to reporters more than once because they were unhappy with the corporate direction and wanted to force change through public shaming. Some didn’t approve of contracts with the Pentagon while others didn’t like an executive supporting the “wrong” political party.

I cannot imagine any Tandemite walking out because we sold computers to the military. In fact, I think many of us were proud that our gear was being used to protect us. And as for politics? I don’t even know what candidates our executives supported at the time and why would anyone care anyway? Many Tandemites were millionaires because of our stock options and whatever we did with our money was our own business. A few parked their Lamborghini-of-the-day out back.

No employee was more important than any other employee and everyone got a minimum of 100 shares a year. Someone will have to remind me when we got them because I don’t recall if it was a Christmas present or if they came at the start of our fiscal year. In any event, everyone got them, down to the janitors before we outsourced building maintenance.

Jimmy once said that the janitors were just as important as everyone else. I don’t remember his exact words, but I think it had something to do with keeping the floors clean so that someone in manufacturing wouldn’t slip at 11:55 PM on the last day of the quarter thus missing a shipment and not making our numbers. The point is that we all pulled together to make Tandem successful and I don’t remember hearing anyone complain that they didn’t like who was on our customer list.

Does anyone remember the Tandem Gay and Lesbian club? At that time, many Tandemites remained “in the closet” due to what are now outdated social norms. And even though I played the dubious role of the Mail Police for many years, that one group was off-limits. It was the one DList that was kept confidential and unmonitored so that the members could be completely open and honest with each other without fear of outing or retribution.

I was proud of the work that I did and the work of everyone around me. It was a shared success and I just don’t see any other company in the valley today where everyone is proud of the company they work for and will do everything in their power to help the company grow so they all can share the wealth. Sun Microsystems was a close second to Tandem with some of the most amazing pranks on the planet being done by their employees.

Maybe I was naïve and there were people pushing for Tandem’s failure. Well shame on them. What do you think was unique to the Tandem culture and could never be replicated?