Interview with Rohit Shukla, CEO of LARTA

No series of interviews with Southern California high tech leaders is complete without talking to truly one of the strongest advocates for the high tech industry in Los Angeles, Rohit Shukla, CEO and president of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance.

BK: You've been a champion of high tech here in Los Angeles for a long time, and now it finally looks like the tide has turned our direction. As someone with a keen insight into not just what's happening here, but how it affects the global picture, I thought it would be great to get your views on the recent upsurge of tech activity and investment in the area. What challenges do you see high tech in this area having to face here in the next year?

RS: A rising tide does not necessarily lift all boats. Breaking it down to the individual company level, the greatest challenge is the need to focus on managing the company. Our greatest weakness in the region is the lack of solid management depth. We've cultivated pioneers, and they are being recognized, at long last. Now the need is for execution, attracting accomplished talent, growing the company, focusing on the end-game (whether that be the IPO, acquisition etc.). The allied challenge is the need to continue to build a real technology community throughout the region, so that the opportunities for talent, for ideas, for services, for money are ever-present and growing. We've done this before, with the aerospace and the entertainment industries. The great thing is: its happening, and everyone in industry and many in government recognize this, and continue to nurture it.

BK: How can local government help/or hurt in this new high tech rebirth that Los Angeles is seeing?

RS: On one level, government is a passive bystander. On a more fundamental level, however, it has the power to say "no", and one cannot underestimate that. In the local arena, our greatest challenge is the jurisdictional fragmentation of the region. Local government, which is stretched in terms of the revenue it has at its disposal, must now be engaged in serious urban planning - for e.g. adopting mixed-use zoning to accomodate an evolving workstyle and workplace, using joint powers agreements to work closely on this issue with adjacent municipalities, encouraging the full deployment of broadband, streamlining the regulatory process (designed for a different industrial age), and involving the high tech community in the planning process. This also means being smarter in how you reach that high tech audience (using the Web, electronic communication, making the message simple and elegant). We do not have the luxury of continuing along the "us versus them" path.

BK: What has LARTA been up to, and what do you see the role of your organization playing?

RS: What a ride its been! LARTA has been a catalyst, a handmaiden to the rebirth. We've been so connected to the various points (high and low) that the region has experienced, that we can play the role of towncrier AND conscience. Our mission is: to inform, strengthen, network and promote Southern California's technology industry worldwide. True to our mission, LARTA:

- is a network of networks, working with and through organizations and companies devoted to specific sectors or areas (the Digital Coast Roundtable, VIC, the Software Council and others)

- has developed a set of solid products (the Southern California Technology Venture Forum among them) to strengthen our best growing companies;

- has seeded technology development (through the CalTIP program, where we invest public money into young companies who have a federal technology sponsor);

- has started a strong and continuing research effort (with the Aerospace study and the Venture Capital Study, both within the past 18 months), to inform the region and outside investors and partners; and

- has connected the efforts of this network to a global network, with us in the role of facilitator (the Global Technology Partnership), involving Sweden and Finland among others.

BK: Is there any one thing you see that companies / individuals / government / organizations need to do to keep this high tech industry going in the future?

RS: Understand the disappointment of success. By not sitting in our own boxes, we can initiate or participate in a joint effort to plan for the future. I believe there is more agreement now than we have seen in years past on the problems we face: congestion, lack of cohesion (starting with the many governments we have in the region) etc. but a sense of being overwhelmed is easy for most of us to experience. Informed dialogue and a focus on outcomes is paramount.