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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Lucio: A taxonomy of Italian Genius

 
October 16th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena

There are three types of Italian genius. Leonardo da Vinci characterized one with his brilliant problem solving, creative innovations in the arts and sciences, diverse dabblings that often left completion dates for commissioned projects as sfumato as his oils, and aggressive self-promotion. An apocryphal testimonial to this last: When he finished the Mona Lisa in the early 1500s, he invited friends and foe alike into his studio to show off what he assured them would be the Next Big Thing. Humility was not in Leonardo’s toolkit.

Born in 1475, Michelangelo Buonarroti exemplified a second type of Italian genius. Intense, focused, gifted with extraordinary talents in the visual arts and architecture, and rumored to be so impassioned by his work as to go weeks on end without sleep, his talent was such that monumental commissions were forced upon him by the political and religious powers of the day, although he argued bitterly against the scale of such assignments. He became increasingly cantankerous with age, and in angry response to criticism of one commission in particular, famously painted himself into his vast Last Judgment as a flayed skin victimized by his patrons. Charm and affability were not in Michelangelo’s toolkit.

Fast forward five centuries and find now a completely different type of Italian genius. Shaped by mid-20th century forces in technology, and brought to full fruition in the fertile fields of Silicon Valley, Lucio Lanza exemplifies a third class in the taxonomy, one that encompasses the upsides of those 16th century icons – intelligence, creativity, a passion for innovation and work, a sense of history – without the downsides – egomania, rough irritability, inability to finish a project, or avoid a project too big to handle.

In the wake of two High-Renaissance Florentians, it took one High-Tech Milanese to fill out the taxonomy of Italian genius. Here in the 21st century, Lucio Lanza is in a modern class of his own.

And how does one know this for certain? If you ever have the chance to visit Lanza in his offices in Palo Alto just adjacent to The Farm, it will be obvious. Lanza techVentures on University Avenue is a virtual Athenaeum of printed antiquities, the central space lined with glass-covered shelves displaying some of the most beautiful books you will ever have a chance to see up close and personal.

After we talked through a range of tech-related topics during my visit last week – an interview precipitated by Lanza being named recipient of the 2014 Phil Kaufman Award – we spent the second half of the visit lingering over an enormous early edition of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, printed in 1493, and an even larger, even earlier edition of a Psalter, produced for a church in Umbria in 1473. As Lanza lovingly pointed out, both books were printed in the first few decades after Gutenberg’s earth-shattering innovation became a widely available technology.

Lanza noted that the 1473 tome, printed just 20 years after the printing press was invented, exhibited abbreviations which were an artifact of earlier, hand-lettered books where such short-hand helped scribes hasten their labors. By 1493, however, Lanza said such abbreviations were no longer needed as the full capabilities of Gutenberg’s productivity tool had been embraced; the 1493 edition of Dante we examined had no abbreviations on the printed page.

Not only did we look extensively through these two volumes during my visit, but Lanza read aloud from them as well – from the Divine Comedy in the Italian Dante helped to codify as vernacular, and from the Psalter in Latin, the lingua franca of the Church. The time spent looking through these books and hearing them read aloud during my visit last week to Lanza techVentures was nothing short of magical.

Particularly when Lanza intoned from Dante: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”


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Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda …

Which brings us to Lanza’s work: Like Leonardo and Michelangelo, Lucio had to learn his craft – that of being a venture capitalist. When asked, he offered that the skill took over 20 years to hone and he credits his early collaboration and admiration of Phil Kaufman for contributing to that training.

“I worked very closely with Phil when we both worked at Intel,” Lucio recalled. “Without a doubt, he was the smartest strategist on earth!”

Lucio Lanza_Photo _2Lucio spoke at length during our interview about his interactions with Kaufman, their work to validate the microprocessor business at Intel – “Those were very tough times. The winners in technology were memories, not microprocessors.” – and their follow-on efforts, along with many others, to move data transfer between CPUs beyond woefully inadequate telephone protocols to newly emerging technologies on twisted pairs, which resulted not only in the Ethernet switch, but in one of Lucio’s own early wins as a VC.

He invested in Crescendo Communications, which was purchased by Cisco and provided the basis for the company’s extraordinarily successful Catalyst family of network switches.

“If you’re in on the bottom floor of a technology,” Lucio learned from that experience, “you are happy. But the key to the game is to always think things out. First you have to understand the environment [within which innovation is happening].

“You have to look back 5 years, then look at the situation today, and then project where things will be in 5 years. Through that process you will start to see how a measure of time affects [your planning]. Intel taught me to do that, to think things through in an organized fashion,” and added chuckling, “not like an Italian.”

Then more seriously, “Creating and pursing a strategy is a daily job. You need to keep your ear to the ground and understand how what is in front of you is fully defined. And you need the intellectual honesty to understand your failures. You need to be able to ask yourself, ‘What the hell happened here?'”

Lucio said humility is always the watchword when pursuing, or investing, in new technology. “In general, you are trying to break down the constraints [which are preventing change]. You may not always be able to invent a new railroad. Sometimes you need the humility, instead, to see what disruptive changes the railroad will bring and to capitalize on those.

“Hats off to you if you’re smart enough to develop a new technology, but it takes a community of thousands of people to invent applications built on that technology. Things like Moore’s law are [in truth] a challenge to such a community. They only become a law when the community rises to meet that challenge.”

Invoking Newton, Lucio said, “The apple always falls, because gravity is a law. But to lower the cost of a transistor, or multiply the number of transistors on the die, is not a law. It is a challenge.

“The design automation community has a charter, and the drive, to make designing more and more complex things a reality. That is their challenge, and the responsibility of the EDA industry, but that also means they must be open to change. When you do not change, you are in a rut. Conversely, it is the beauty of the human condition that when we are open to change and have a goal, just like with the printing press, we can change the whole world.”

I asked Lucio if venture capitalists such as himself are pathologically positive.

He laughed and responded, “All entrepreneurs are by definition optimists!”

I asked if the companies he has invested in benefit from his particular brand of optimism.

Again he laughed, “I always tell the companies in which I decide to invest that there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that I will be seriously involved in your business. The bad news is that I will be seriously involved in your business!”

Charm, affability, humility, intellectual honesty – all part of the complex toolkit of the 2014 recipient of the Phil Kaufman Award, Dr. Lucio Lanza.


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Dr. Lucio Lanza …

Lucio Lanza is the Managing Director of Lanza techVentures, an early stage venture capital and investment firm, which he founded in January 2001. Since 2008, he has been a General Partner and Chief Technology Strategist at Radnorwood Capital, LLC, an investor in public technology companies. In 1990, he joined US Venture Partners as a venture partner and a general partner.

From 1990 to 1995, he was an independent consultant to companies in the semiconductor, communications, and EDA industries, including Cadence Design Systems, and from 1986 to 1989 was CEO of EDA Systems, Inc. Previously, Lanza was VP of Marketing and General Manager of the EDA Division at Daisy Systems Corp. From 1977 to 1983, he held several positions with responsibility for strategy and innovation at Intel, including serving as Chairman of the Microprocessor Strategic Business segment. From 1968 to 1977, he was responsible for processor architecture and design at Olivetti Corp.

Lanza has served as a non-executive director of ARM, until May 2010, and currently is Chairman of the Board of PDF Solutions. In August 2010, he joined the Board of Harris & Harris Group, a publicly traded venture capital company investing in nanotechnology and microsystems. He also serves, or has served, on the Board of Directors of several private companies, including Forte Design Systems and Jasper Design Automation, both sold to Cadence in 2014.

Dr. Lanza has a PhD in Electronic Engineering from the Politecnico of Milano.


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Epiloge …

“Considerate la vostra semenza:
Fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.”


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