You know I am against California’s Proposition 8, which eliminates marriage, and I’m a Silicon Valley boy. I was really pleased to see over 50 Silicon Valley leaders take a public stand against Proposition 8, in the form of a full-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News today (October 31, 2008). One name really meant a lot to me: that of Chuck Geschke, co-founder and co-Chairman of Adobe Systems, where I worked for 16 years.

I heard about the ad in news stories, but I couldn’t find it on the newspaper’s site. (It’s funny that newspaper ads don’t make it to their websites. You’d think that for expensive full-page public statement ads, it would be part of the package.) But Techcrunch carried an image: “Silicon Valley Stands United Against Prop. 8“. (Oh, and the No on 8 campaign has a press release with the text.)

With respect to all the other notable people in the ad, Chuck Geschke’s name means the most to me. Like many Adobe-ites in the 1990’s, I learned about ethical, successful business from Chuck and from John Warnock, and from Adobe Systems, the company they founded. I was just a worker bee, but their ethics and culture permeated the place.

It was part of “John & Chuck’s” ethics that the company was relatively early to provide domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples. Adobe was also good about walking the walk on gender identity non-discrimination; it was pretty clear to me that anyone going through a gender transition on the job would get treated fairly by the company, and most likely by their manager and co-workers too.  (Interestingly, they were slower to talk the talk than to walk the walk; they didn’t add gender identity to the Adobe corporate non-discrimination policy until 2005.)

But it was also part of John & Chuck’s ethics that the company wouldn’t throw its weight around politically.  It almost never took stands on political issues. It even was reluctant to take public stands on relevant public policy issues. When Adobe sent Doug Brotz to testify against software patents in 1994, I recall a kind of disclaimer internally that Adobe didn’t really want to do this, but patents were such a problem and so central to Adobe’s business that we just had to. I spent a few years in the early 2000’s trying to get Adobe to take an official position in favour of marriage equality, and that reluctance to take a stand was my biggest obstacle. By the same token, John and Chuck also kept a low profile with their personal political activity.

Let’s also not forget that John and Chuck are admirable, decent human beings. Especially Chuck, who had the reputation inside of Adobe of being the kindly uncle. Let’s leave for another time all the stories about how this kindness and decency didn’t prevent them from being ferocious, determined business competitors. To the extent I get to be a business leader, they are among my role models.

That is why it made a big impression on me that Chuck would put his name on a public statement like the ad opposing Proposition 8. His track record is that he doesn’t take steps like this lightly. I really appreciate what he did today, and my admiration for him has gone up another notch.

[Update: copy-editing.]