Co-chairs combine legal savvy, leadership to move tech council forward

January 14, 2005

By hammersmith

When Ed Zito stepped down as chairman of the Governor’s Council on Innovation and Technology last year, it took two people to fill his shoeprint and continue the work he did in his yearlong tenure. At least, that’s the way current co-chair Bill Hardin tells it. Hardin, who specializes in counseling business clients in transactional law with the firm Osborn Maledon, teamed up with Steve Sanghi, CEO of Microchip Inc., to co-chair GCIT. The 31-member council, hand-picked by the governor, serves as an advisory and advocacy body that works to strengthen Arizona’s fledgling knowledge-based economy through promoting policies, government and industry collaboration, entrepreneurial incentives, and legislative measures to raise Arizona’s high-tech profile.

Like much of Arizona’s growing biosciences and technology sector, GCIT relies on consensus as its main tool in “driving a culture of science, technology, and innovation,” Sanghi said. Though it does not have policy-making capacity, the council includes several state lawmakers; its primary work is to analyze data and resources and then present Gov. Janet Napolitano with options to foster entrepreneurial expansion and the growth of high-paying jobs in the state—jobs that they say are increasingly developed in the tech sector.

Hardin summed up GCIT’s goal to grow this knowledge-based economy as “doing some things ourselves, but also facilitating processes by which a lot of other people can more effectively do the same thing.”

But according to its mission statement, the council is also keeping an eye on the “big picture” of regional and global economics, including currency rates and geopolitical shifts.

For example, Sanghi pointed to India’s newfound international dominance in software engineering and the recent burgeoning of China’s manufacturing sector. “If you probe into it deeply, you will see policy differences 10 years earlier,” Sanghi said. Sanghi added that GCIT and Arizona policy-makers and community leaders must act similarly, aware that “we are building a roadmap for years to follow.”

Sanghi and Hardin said that they are also very aware of how Arizona’s roadmap is influenced by the regional economy: In the recent shift of many California businesses to the Rocky Mountain West, Sanghi said that “we took the back seat to our other neighbors because of things Arizona did not do,” which include providing venture capital capacity or passing a tech-transfer amendment, both shortcomings that the Council is trying to correct now.

On Hardin and Sanghi’s watch, the council has had to contend with some significant frustrations, including the “no” vote in November on ballot Proposition 102, which would have permitted universities to accept equity in new companies spun from technologies cultivated on campus, and the Legislature’s failure to pass a measure that would have created a “fund of funds” to be used as risk capital to lure new and out-of-state companies into Arizona’s borders.

“Frequently the education campaign for constitutional amendment changes takes more than one election cycle, and I think that’s particularly true for a measure [like Proposition 102] that deals with subject matter that is new to many people,” Hardin said.

In both instances, Hardin and Sanghi said that GCIT will continue to fight for both of these projects by bolstering public information campaigns as a way to try to win more widespread awareness and approval of tech-friendly measures.

“I think we need to continuously look at our strengths vis-a-vis other technology centers and play to them,” said Hardin, adding that he believes that those strengths include sustainable development, optics, and TGen’s genomic work, among others, but will multiply as the private and university sector grow and diversify. Hardin said that it is GCIT’s job to be watchful and sensitive of those developments over time, and to incorporate Arizona’s shifts of strength into its statewide business strategy.

The two co-chairs hail from starkly different professional backgrounds. Sanghi, the current CEO of Microchip Technologies, remembers wanting to be an electronics engineer since he was 12 years old. Hardin, who worked briefly as a CPA before attending law school, said a clerk position with a Federal Appeals Court judge after graduation gave him a lot of insight into how litigation works, but also pushed him further away from the courtroom.

“I get more satisfaction from counseling clients and helping people avoid conflicts than presiding over squabbles,” Hardin said.

Both said that their professional lives prepared them well with the cooperation and negotiation skills imperative to leading the council. In Hardin’s words, he has always been “focused more on transactions and counseling than litigation.”

Sanghi’s knack for leadership goes almost as far back as his passion for electronics. Since receiving his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Sanghi held managerial positions everywhere from his college dormitory to Intel and finally Microchip, where he was named president in 1990 and chief executive officer in 1991.

He said that helping to build Microchip informed his GCIT co-chairmanship by giving him the “confidence, stature, and credibility” to perform at the council, as well as managerial tools such as consensus building, relationship building, and organization.

And Hardin says that the focus of his practice on entrepreneurs and venture-backed growth companies has geared him up especially well for the co-chairmanship, by providing him “an appreciation of the financing and technology challenges” that high-tech companies face, and also an “education about the needs and requirements of the venture capital community.”

But despite these different paths, both Sanghi and Hardin said the key to the success of their co-chairmanship at GCIT has been collaboration, the same driving force that has fueled so much of Arizona’s high-tech and biosciences success thus far; their challenge is to convince Valley lawmakers and business leaders that on the road to a knowledge economy, collaboration is the quickest way from where they are to where they want to go.