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Here’s a tale of two Silicon Valley startups

Apparently the greatest industrialist in American history was not always the nicest guy.
 
He yelled at people. He insisted they do it his way. He fired them if they did not. Sometimes he fired them if they did.
 
Steve Jobs set out to change the world with one simple goal: perfection. He had to settle for excellence. He inspired a lot of people along the way.
 
Jobs would not have been welcome at the Occupy Wall Street protests. He was a not a "wave your fingers in the air if you want to let me talk" kind of fellow.
 
Nor did he care a darn about creating jobs. Steve Jobs was all about creating excellent goods and services for people. The jobs were a side effect, not a driving force.
 
From what anyone can tell, members of the Occupy Wall Street crowd think talking about creating jobs by waving your fingers is the same as actually creating jobs. Of course it is not. And if the Occupy Wall Street crowd would put down their iPads and iPhones for a moment, they could learn why by looking at a tale of two companies:
 
Twenty miles apart in Silicon Valley sit two buildings: One is empty, funded by $535 billion of guaranteed government loans.
 
The other is a bustling campus that belongs to one of the top publicly traded enterprises in the world–started by two guys in a garage.
 
One is thriving. The other is dead. One changed the world. The other may change an election. One is Apple Inc., the other Solyndra LLC.
 
Solyndra touted its solar panels as unique. Scientists saw little that was revolutionary, but the marketing people did not want to hear that. Neither did a bedazzled Department of Energy before it cut the company a check for half a billion dollars.
 
A Livermore movie theater was one of the first to install the government-funded solar panels. They were not as effective as advertised. But few knew. Or wanted to know.
 
Construction of Solyndra’s state-of-the-art plant continued. Somehow it is human nature to be more lavish with other people’s money, something Jobs and Steve Wozniak never experienced.
 
Solyndra opened its "Taj Mahal" of plants in September 2010 with much fanfare. It was nothing like Steve Jobs’ garage. But it did have alternative energy A-listers such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vice President Joe Biden.
 
For $535 million, Solyndra created 3,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs-that lasted one year.
 
The plant was closed on Aug. 31. It was never close to breaking even.
 
Many knew that before Solyndra admitted it. In May 2010, Solyndra’s own auditors issued a "going concern" letter-something issued only when auditors believe there is serious doubt that the company will survive beyond 12 months.
 
Mysteriously, this did not stop President Barack Obama from showing up at Solyndra in May to hail it as a model for a bright new future in our economy.
 
He had the right idea. Just the wrong building.

Bill Gunderson is owner of Gunderson Capital Management in Oceanside, Calif. He hosts a show about investing on KCEO-AM in San Diego.

11/11/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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