He Won. Now What? The Opportunity For Tech Execs To Step Out Of Silicon Valley

11/13/2016 02:46 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2016

Once it became clear Tuesday night that Donald Trump was on track to when the electoral votes necessary to clinch the presidency, a dark cloud descended on the Bay Area. This should come as no surprise, given that 90 percent of San Francisco voters chose Hillary Clinton, while 77 percent in Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara county pulled the lever for Secretary Clinton.

Now, as the dawn of a new age in American politics begins to sink in, the question Bay Area tech leaders are asking is “now what?”

First, let’s remember that we’ve been here before. The 2000 presidential election pitted a tech-friendly Democrat, Al Gore, against a traditional conservative, George W. Bush, who many in the tech community viewed as downright provincial. On tech issues, it was almost as though the two candidates spoke different languages. Democrat and veterans of the Clinton White House naturally sided with Gore. As soon as the Bush administration began to take shape, my focus was to find opportunities and help navigate the new administration in Washington, DC. The same rules apply today.

For those who supported Hillary Clinton, the first instinct may be to throw up our hands in despair. But for an industry that prides itself on moving fast and constantly iterating, it is crucial to react to these election results the way one might to a failed product launch or disappointing IPO. While everyone else is paralyzed by doubt, the smart leaders will look for opportunities.

Finding opportunities in turmoil – or, as the legendary Warren Buffett put it, being “greedy when others are fearful” – is a time-tested strategy. Once the dust settled after the 2008 financial crisis, one of the clearest lessons was that the companies that bounced back the fastest were the ones that continued to plan, invest and implement a long-term strategy – not those that hunkered down in the cellar and waited for the storm to pass.

We are reaching the end of an administration that has extremely close ties to Silicon Valley.

A steady stream of tech executives has been invited to the White House to advise this administration, which appointed the first-ever national Chief Technology officer. Conversely, President Trump will take office knowing few in the Valley and lacking a fluency on many of the issues the tech community cares most about.

During an election, our job as citizens is to choose sides. Once a new president is chosen, it is our responsibility to contribute whatever we can to move our country forward.

Lacking strong backing or experience with tech, the Trump administration will have to bring new voices to the table. Seize this opportunity and ignore those who will doubtlessly criticize your efforts. There is a long and proud tradition of leaders in politics and business putting their partisan leanings aside to serve their country.

Tech leaders should also seize this moment to elevate the way they communicate their vision for the future. Many of Donald Trump’s voters express concern over technology’s role in America’s economic future. Where the Valley sees innovation as a powerful job-creator and a force for good, others see a world changing fast and for the worse. Their fears are valid, and Silicon Valley can do a better job of broadening the promise of technology so that so many disaffected Americans no longer feel left behind. Government must be a partner.

This is a moment for leadership. It is an opportunity for tech executives to step out of the Silicon Valley and connect with Washington policymakers and average Americans in new and powerful ways. I myself am prepared to help make this happen so that the 21st Century tech economy can be won for all.

Alan H. Fleischmann is Founder, President & CEO of Laurel Strategies, a global business advisory and strategic communications firm for leaders, CEOs and their C-suite. http://www.laurelstrategies.com

CONVERSATIONS