Understanding what it takes to conceive, grow and sustain a successful Utah technology company is critical to the long-term health and viability of the state's economic future.

I gained greater insights into this process last week as a participant in the 20th annual Investors Choice Conference held at the Marriott City Center Hotel.

Produced by the non-profit Wayne Brown Institute, the investor conference provided a venue for 27 enterprises to tout investment prospects in their respective companies and technologies in front of scores of investors and venture capitalists. My company, Politis Communications, was recently engaged to provide public relations services to the Wayne Brown Institute.

During the lunch portion of the day-long event, the WBI joined with the MountainWest Venture Group to recognize Patrick Byrne, president and chief executive officer of Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK), as the MWVG's Entrepreneur of the Year.

As in other public events where he has spoken before, Byrne was affable and quite open in his remarks as he helped paint a picture of Overstock today versus where it was when he and others gained control of the company four years ago.

Although much of Overstock's wares come from companies that merely built too much of one item and want to sell the excess quickly, he also described how the premise behind Overstock puts him in a position to look closely at a lot of companies that have gone out of business.

This opportunity to examine corporate carcasses has led Byrne to draw a correlation between the Chinese art of feng shui and failed companies.

Just as the practitioner of feng shui seeks to strategically position objects, furniture, plants and the like to achieve positive balance in a room, building or a campus setting, so too Byrne believes that corporations should seek to achieve balance. Correspondingly, he believes those that do not do this are destined for failure.

Trying to do too much or to expand beyond an organization's core focus or competencies are other examples, he believes, of how a company can get out of balance and achieve a bad corporate feng shui.

Byrne's most interesting , and I believe profound, statement came as he was wrapping up his prepared comments when he said, "The quality and the character of the Utah people are what set it (the state) apart."

He also suggested that it was, in fact, because Overstock.com is based in Utah that it has been able to achieve the success it has garnered in such a short period of time.

These statements have also led to no small amount of introspection by this columnist.

Is it really that simple? In other words, hire quality people with great moral character and corporate success is destined to follow?

What a compelling question to contemplate.

Could Arthur Andersen, Enron, Tyco, MCI Worldcom, and dozens of other corporate scandals have been avoided if a true sense of corporate morality imbued these organizations?

This concept has such a self-congratulatory, feel-good sense to it that I want to believe it.

I also suspect it's the main reason why Byrne received a standing ovation from luncheon guests following his speech.

But is it really true?

Don't politicians and corporate executives in other states and foreign lands feel the same way — it's the people who make their states and their countries great?

Naturally, Utah would be a very different place today had not the early Mormon pioneers settled here along the Wasatch Front range.

It was their dogged determination in the face of persecution with beliefs in an eternally just God and the leadership of their wise prophet governor, Brigham Young, that cultivated the desert so it would blossom as the rose.

It is the religious outreach effort known as the LDS missionary program that has sent literally hundreds of thousands of young men and women around the globe to immerse themselves in foreign cultures while seeking converts. As a result, Utah has become one of the most multilingual centers on the planet.

And like it or not, I believe the main reason the 2002 Winter Olympics were the success they were has more to do with the pioneer-bred "can do" volunteer attitude of the residents of this state than with anything else.

Is Overstock's success purely traceable back to its employees? Perhaps.

Certainly the concept and fulfillment of the idea behind creating a world-class infrastructure to acquire and liquidate overstocked goods has a little something to do with the success of the company.

Obviously, Overstock.com would be nothing without employees to perform various tasks and functions within its corporate structure.

But is it really that simple: hire quality people with great moral character and corporate success is destined to follow?

Byrne seems to believe so, and given Overstock's track record thus far, I believe the idea bears further examination.


David Politis leads Politis Communications, a public relations, investor relations and marketing communications agency specializing in the high-tech and life science markets.

E-mail: dpolitis@politis.com.