In Memoriam: Sid Agrawal
Asha, Anya & Sid - 02 Feb 2007
Update, Australia 21 November / California 20 November: Video of NBC interview with Asha and Ashish.
Sid Agrawal, my mentor, boss, business partner, and friend, was murdered today.
Sid and I left our previous employer together in 1996 and started a company called Layer Five. By late 1999, when Nortel offered to acquire us, Sid was Layer Five's chairman, so he was the first person I called. Sid thought we could do better. Sid knew Pradeep Sindhu, the founder of Juniper Networks; he convinced him that Juniper should take a look; and in so doing Sid put all six Layer Five employees, and our families, on the journey we are still on today. It was just one of the countless ways he used his insight, his intellect, and his many friendships to make a lasting impact on those around him.
Personally, I owe Sid more than just my fortune and my tenure at Juniper. It's a common cliche to say "he taught me everything I know," but in this case I feel it's true; the most important things I learned in business all come from my time working for Sid.
The most important lesson he taught me is also the most difficult to practice on a day like today: "be positive." For at least a year, when he was VP of Marketing and I was a newbie product manager, he would mark up my PowerPoint presentations with the same note. Every time I wrote a negatively phrased bullet, he marked it in red, and coached me to rephrase. It's a lesson that's easy to understand but difficult to master. I don't know whether Sid was a natural at positivity, or whether he had had to work at it, but certainly by the time I came to know him it was a central part of who he was. Many of you whom I've worked with over the last ten years have heard me give the same feedback; so your lives have been touched by him as well.
Another lesson he tried to impart to me is one I'm still working on: he called me "too rational." Sid did his MBA at the University of Chicago, a notoriously rigorous program that's heavy on math, econometrics, and other fundamentals. So he had an exceptionally rational bent himself. He also had a gift for the human side of things though, something he could practice, diagnose, and teach.
I remember so many other things. The first December of Layer Five's existence, the company was just the two of us, and he set up our "company Christmas Party," with our wives, at a table for four at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I learned, to my surprise, that in his earlier years, in Florida if I recall, Sid had enjoyed racing cars on a track. It's hard to explain why that seems so incongruous, but for those who met him over the last fifteen or twenty years, you'll understand.
Last I heard from Sid was a month ago. He was helping a friend vet a business plan; we exchanged the usual "how's the family" and arranged to have lunch in December.
Sid is survived by his wife Asha and two sons in college. It appears that the killer was an employee recently laid off from Sid's company. Impossible to calculate how many jobs won't be created now because his entrepreneurial energy is no longer with us... but there I go being too rational again. He would have wanted me to say what I'm really feeling. He was a good man, not so much older than me but in some ways a father figure, and I miss him.