This week, as I was listening to the news and seeing the Dow at levels I'm used to seeing the NASDAQ at and seeing the NASDAQ ... well, in the basement ... I couldn't help but remember another time. Do you think one day we'll tell our children about this "other time" like our elders told us once about growing up poor?
My memory of "another time" now seems too fantastic (in a fantasy sort of way) to be true. It included these gems:
- Returning the phone calls of so many investors calling into our Investor Relations office every day that my jaw would literally ache from the face muscles that help you talk. Every time I returned to my office, my door would be covered with pink message slips and look like wall-to-wall pink tile. I would scan the slips for the largest holders and analysts who would be the most furious for having to wait 5 minutes or 60 minutes for a returned phone call. Time was money! (on the up side.)
- We had so many large investors and Wall Street analysts visiting us at HQ daily that we needed two conference rooms dedicated to Wall Street visits. They were booked pretty much constantly. One was on the first floor, its name plate read, "Opportunity" (subliminal for "ground floor opportunity"). The second conference room was on the top floor of the building. It was called "No Limits" (as in no limits to high this can go.)
- Before the companies Yahoo and Google arrived, the only way you could get real-time (or 15 minute delayed) stock quotes was to pay a lot of money every month to Bloomberg for a terminal dedicated to the quotes. This terminal was outside my office. The carpet floor tile in front of the Bloomberg terminal was literally worn from the employees and executives "swinging by during the course of the day" to check the price. Each visit was nearly guaranteed to show them another point or two on the upside.
- Now every day wasn't an 'up" day in the 1990s. For those days we had to insert a little humor. Someone placed a couple votive candles in front of the terminal. When the stock was down, the candles were lit.
- Hedge fund analysts used to wear what looked like old western gun belts. They'd pack 2 cell phones, a beeper and a PDA. They'd talk on both phones simultaneously.
- Toward the end of the 1990s, tech stocks -- and EMC in particular -- were really on a tear. We were among the "4 horsemen of the Internet" -- Cisco, Sun, EMC and Oracle. We were providing the picks and axes of a new gold rush .. the dot.com era.
- We presented at 47 Investor Conferences dedicated to Growth stocks in a single year. That's almost one a week! Each conference required a new presentation with all-new-and-scintillating growth stories and proof points. Between the conferences and the city visits to meet with our top holders, we literally had to fly everywhere in the private jet to meet the schedule.
- I remember a Morgan Stanley note upping a price target on us during this late '90s time. The title was "Ben Franklin Time" ... indicating that the stock would soon resemble the bill with Ben Franklin's face on it. (During the movie Slum dog Millionaire, I got that Jeopardy-esque question right too, remembering that analyst note!)
- The wonderful day EMC's market cap hit $50 Billion for the first time I went to the local package store and bought a few bottles of champagne. I invited all the execs involved in the IR program to join us in the IR office area to celebrate. Ahh, a joyful day.
- A couple months later, the stock hit another landmark, maybe it was the Ben Franklin (stock at $100) moment, I'm not sure but I recall the market cap being $80 billion and for whatever reason it was big enough to warrant another Champagne party. (I remember Colin Patteson, our CFO at the time, and a wealthy man independent of EMC's new found riches saying to me in his English accent, "Polly enough is enough, isn't?" In other words, this is more money than any investor or employee could ever need or deserve to make on EMC, right?) Only it didn't feel that way. It felt as though things were just getting started. And they were.
- Soon after, we hit $100 Billion in market cap. That champagne party made me feel down right guilty. I mean, EMC was a frugal company. We had never had champagne opened on the property EVER to my knowledge. We were still standardized on Bic pens. Heck,our headquarter building at that time was still a Leased property, "just in case." But, if you had a party at $50 and $80 Billion ... you just had to recognize the landmark $100 billion, right? (BTW, our revenue was still under $10 billion annually at the time.)
- I was in Cannes the day that Cisco became the most valuable company on the S&P 500, besting GE. It only lasted a day or so -- but I remember it vividly. It happened during one of the more grand investor conferences. We ate dinner by candle light with pate, and white linens amidst a large tent, draped in pleated white fabric up to the pointed ceiling; accompanied by gorgeous french wines and scrumptious flowers on the every table. It looked like a scene from the Oscar party you see on TV. Not every conference was like that to be sure -- that was just for the extra-special-growth-fabulous-companies.
- When it hit $200 Billion in market cap, there was no champagne party. It was getting a little "been there" by then ... and it was still so close to the last celebration that it seemed in bad form.
- The day we realized we had become the best performing NYSE stock of the decade (the 1990s) and the NYSE Chairman bumped Rudi Giuliani to have us ring the opening bell of the new Millennium, I got a call from a dear friend and coach. He said, "Polly, do be sure to take the time to celebrate this achievement. Life goes fast. Remember this one."
- So I held a Stock of the Decade Party at my house. EMC's Founder, Dick Egan was there. EMC's CEO, Mike Ruettgers was there. EMC's "new guy," the just appointed President, Joe Tucci was there. We hired an entertainer, set up a stage in my living room and had a giant ice sculpture made for the buffet table that said, "EMC#1."
Photo: Ringing the bell to open the new Millennium -- in celebration of being the most appreciated listed stock of the decade. The banner hanging behind us (Polly, far left, Dick Grasso, Mike Ruettgers, and Mike's family) is now folded and sitting a bit rumpled on a chair in my office.
Good times; great dream.
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What were your memories of this fantasy-fantastic time?