washingtonpost.com  > Technology > Special Reports > Google

At Google, Not Quite Partying Like It's 1999

Silicon Valley's Revival Is a Little Less Extravagant

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A01

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. -- The first company to rent out this entire ski resort, arguably Lake Tahoe's most expensive and exclusive, didn't even exist a decade ago. But such is the fame of its name and the magic of its reported wealth that workers here immediately began dreaming of getting their own tiny shares.

Cashiers at the Mountain Nectar smoothie and coffee bar shined the tip jars. The real estate agents doubled their normal staffs and photocopied dozens of extra brochures of luxury homes and condos for sale. The bar owners stocked up on fancy wines.

Google employees prepare for a ski lesson during the company's trip. Google paid for skiing, snowboarding, tubing and ice skating for its employees. (Ariana Eunjung Cha -- The Washington Post)

_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: The Post's Ariana Eunjung Cha discussed her article about the tech sector's cautious revival.
Track Google's Stock: GOOG
_____Google In The News_____
Google to Release TV Search Service (The Washington Post, Jan 25, 2005)
Google, SEC Settle Over Stock Options (The Washington Post, Jan 14, 2005)
Google Wins in Suit Over Ads (The Washington Post, Dec 16, 2004)
Complete Coverage: Google

But those expecting a bonanza this time went away disappointed.

The employees of Google Inc. came aboard standard commercial buses. (It was cheaper than flying but meant that employees left company headquarters at 5:30 a.m. for the five-hour drive.) The rooms were crammed to maximum occupancy. (It wasn't unusual for strangers to be assigned to share double beds.) And while most of employees were at the resort or in transit for 36 hours, the company provided only two cafeteria-style, buffet meals. (The restaurants at the resort were too pricey.)

That's Silicon Valley five years after the giddy boom and four years after the gut-wrenching crash. It's back -- but is lacking some swagger. It is making money again for its investors and employees, but there is a chastened sense. No one wants to invoke the specter of excess.

Everyone here remembers the days when MicroStrategy Inc. chief executive Michael J. Saylor whisked his company off on a post-holiday Caribbean cruise, when venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson threw a party so large it was held in a NASA hangar, and when companies whose names have long been forgotten were so flush with cash that they were able to hire Cirque du Soleil, Elvis Costello and the B-52's for their bashes.

But even though Google shares are now worth $49.4 billion in the stock market -- more than the combined value of Ford Motor Co., Safeway Inc. and Kmart Holding Corp. -- its employees didn't throw money around.

"The Google guys were the opposite of what you might expect," said one sales clerk at a shop at the mountain. "They were grumbling that the $2.65 price of a ChapStick was too much. Go figure."

Google employees, all of whom said they are prohibited from speaking with the media without prior approval from the company, jokingly grumbled that the mandatory event was somewhat like camping. But they said hanging out with co-workers in an informal setting, watching their bosses fall in the snow and dancing to '80s music helped build camaraderie.

"It was quite a production, but it was great and I got to see people in a way I had never before," said Stacy Sullivan, Google's human resources director.

CONTINUED    1 2 3 4    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company