FORMER INTEL CEO and chairman Craig Barrett is a cowboy at heart. An avid outdoorsman with a ranch and resort in Montana, U.S.A., Barrett says he yearned to be a forest ranger when he was young. But somehow he got sidetracked into teaching engineering at Stanford University, then running a U.S. $38 billion company called Intel, the world’s No. 1 technology chipmaker. Barrett retired last year, although he's almost as busy now jetting around the globe, engaged in non-profit work in education, technology for the poor, and other world-changing issues. In a recent telephone interview, I spoke with Barrett from his office in Phoenix, Arizona, where he lives part-time with his attorney wife, Barbara Barrett, the former U.S. Ambassador to Finland and a trained astronaut and jetfighter pilot. Parts 2 and 3 of these posts will look at Barrett's thoughts on innovation policy, plus his keynote talk at the Global Technology Symposium at Stanford on how fortune cookies foster innovation.
CoolGlobalBiz: Are you enjoying your role as a global technology ambassador and business diplomat? What’s your typical schedule like now?
Barrett: I’m certainly out of the day-to-day management business, but I’ve got a lot of other stuff to do. I’m focusing on education and healthcare -- two minor topics. I’m still travelling a bit internationally and in the United States . . . . I’m mostly doing things related to my interests and not in the commercial space, but what I consider to be in the fun space. You’re really doing something that matters and impacts people.
CoolGlobalBiz.com: You’ve travelled globally for many years. What differences do you see in cultural attitudes toward innovation and risk-taking?
Barrett: You see how people or societies look at failure, whether it’s negatively or positively. In Latin American society, there’s a fear of risk-taking in startups. It’s kind of a disgrace to fail. But if you go to a place like Israel, where everybody is by definition a risk-taker and you see the highest number of startups per capita, there’s no fear of failure. You go to a place like Finland, and even though they have a very good education system and the highest number of patents per capita, you find that most Finns are a little bit introverted. An introverted nature in a society (tends to limit) startup activities. Finns stay close to home to start a business.
You see different government actions which promote or inhibit startups. The Israeli government started the venture capital industry there by guaranteeing a return on investment funds, a minimum return. They guaranteed that and were able to get private investors involved, and that’s been very successful. Other countries have to copy that. Rules and regulations and tax rates and infrastructure and immigration policies -- all of these things affect the ease or difficulty involved in startups and innovation.
CoolGlobalBiz.com: Other countries?
Barrett: There's a tendency in the European theater to be moving away from this. They're moving more and more towards the U.S. model as we talk. There's certainly not the fear of failure in China and India. You see a lot of venture activity and entrepreneurial activity. To a degree, Africa is a little premature, although in my travels in northern Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, you see a fair amount of high-tech entrepreneurial activity. One of the biggest challenges you have in most African countries is the infrastructure. You need the physical infrastructure, the communications and IT infrastructure, to really effectively be an entrepreneurial society.
You are seeing entrepreneurs at the microfinance level, everywhere in the world where small business people are trying to make a living. Organizations online, such as Kiva, are providing microfinance support to small entrepreneurs everywhere in the world. (See TechCrunch, "Four Years After Founding, Kiva Hits $100 Million in Microloans" ) When Christmas season comes around, I used to give money to my grandkids and nieces and nephews, but now I give them credit on Kiva. The only way they can get their money back is by judiciously making their loans and investments, and waiting. I'm turning these young kids into mini-international entrepreneurs.
CoolGlobalBiz.com: You're an avid sportsman. Your favorite fishing or hunting experience of late?
I had two great fishing trips, very memorable ones. One was helicopter fly-fishing in New Zealand. We stayed at a lodge and got in a helicopter, which drops you in remote canyon with a guide. The rotor blades of the choppers look like they're gonna scrape the canyon walls. You spend all day hiking and fishing for rainbow and brown trout. It was the Poronui lodge on the North Island of New Zealand. The other recent trip was to Alphonse island in the Seychelles for bonefishing. A ship takes you offshore, then you take skiffs from the mothership and do your fishing in shallow reefs. Bonefishing is terribly exciting.