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Westrek Evolving

Starting my journey of fifteen hours from Brussels to San Francisco on this cold morning of January 1st, tiredness and a slight drunkenness made me wonder if the trip was worth it. Trading a week of enjoyable vacation at home for six thousand miles of travel and twelve company visits suddenly sounded at best very nerdish, and probably totally insane. The signs were clear: with a Nasdaq at 2500, dotcoms filing for bankruptcy and so many classmates asking me about my once-oh-so-uncool consulting employer, what could be left of Silicon Valley and of its promises?
But this week of Trek taught me that life goes on, even after major climatic changes such as this market crash. Species evolve, mutate and indeed sometimes have to disappear. And in this article, I’d like to share with you the biggest signs of evolution that I witnessed during what ended up to be a very enjoyable week of Westrek.
Deprived of hopes to get rich quick, herds of students have become much smaller. Decimated by the consulting offers, the second-year student was quickly classified as endangered species. But what the Westrek lost in quantity, it made up in business acumen and style (natural selection is such an amazing process). What would earlier have been “super-cool” ideas are now described as either “unsustainable” or “non-scalable”. More visibly, three-piece suits that could have figured in the Gucci case appeared where we used to see jeans.
The story of Venture Capitalists was much more appalling. Enthusiastic students, vibrant with passion for the industry and willing to make a smart Forrester quote every minute, were told that the targeted growth was negative. Worse, they attempted to convince their biggest fans among the student body to join their portfolio of so far unsuccessful B-to-C start-up’s! But as the hatred of any operational work appeared to remain an important criterion of social selection inside the herd, few of the students fell into the trap.
Many dot-com’s looked starved and bleak. Often isolated, they were calling on blue chips like a careless tourist in the desert would call on his gods in violent invocations: “IBM is using our software!1”, “France Telecom is our next client!”, “We have never targeted start-up, you can be clear on that”. One smart high-tech PR firm explained that that their business model had always been strategy consulting …
Because far away from the markets, enjoying Japanese food in deserted restaurants, paid with not-so-contingent fees, consulting companies were exulting (would consulting firms be the vultures of the e-conomy after all ?). Back to the arrogance that suits them so well2, they smooth-talked with the biggest smile and declined first-year interviews immediately after.
Maybe this Westrek wasn’t about the Gung-Ho job hunt. Maybe it was about enjoying the California sun in T-shirts, about driving around palm trees all windows open with classmates you truly like, about enjoying the yellow and purple decoration of the Yahoo restaurant, about feeling dizzy in SGI’s Virtual Reality Center, or simply about keeping updated on an area that is still changing the world and to which many of us remain highly committed, no matter what markets will say.

February 5, 2001
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