Monday was a sad day. A former co-work informed me via text message that my professional mentor passed away last week.
Vincent J. Coates founded several high-technology companies including Nanometrics, in 1975, which would grow into one of the most recognizable names in the semiconductor capital equipment industry. He was awarded more than 20 patents, had pioneering products in spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy. One of the products he developed is responsible for a market segment that now generates $500 million a year. The technologies Mr. Coates developed are difficult to explain to those not involved in the industry but without his contributions, computers, cell phones and iPods would run much slower than they do today.
Vince was a dichotomy, you either loved him, hated him or, more than likely, both depending on the minute. On any given day he could be an absolute hard ass and on the following day he was your best friend sharing a funny joke or discussing last night’s football game. Once you had the opportunity to get know Vince, it was obvious he was a kind person. His fist pounding demands for excellence scared most people into avoidance so they never got to see the true man.
He was always teaching, offering advice and sharing his experiences that brought success. Over time, once mutual respect was achieved, you could talk to Vince about anything. Many years ago when I was a young marketing manager, Vince and I were eating lunch in the company cafeteria and he started talking about politics. He noticed I was uncomfortable and asked why. Telling him I was conflicted because my liberal political views were not conducive to growth into corporate management, he proceeded to set me straight. Vince cited example after example of Silicon Valley leaders that were Democrats and explained that an overwhelming number of entrepreneurs are liberal and they’re successful because their minds are open. Over the years I’ve come to realize that he was correct. Progressive free thinking entrepreneurs develop new markets and industries. Conservatives move in later to milk and stagnant setting the stage for a new wave of liberals to come in and obsolete the stagnation. This is especially true in high technology.
The above is just one example of Vince’s teachings, there are many more I could share. Like most of us, Vince wasn’t perfect but he was brilliant and willing to teach if you willing to learn. He demanded perfection and would let you know, in no uncertain terms, when you fell short. At the end of the day, when the dust settled, he always tried to do the right thing.
Knowing Vince made me a better person.