Last week’s announcement that what’s left of Grass Valley Group has been sold to Belden Inc. for $220 million will likely lead to the loss of more good-paying high tech jobs in the community as the new owners carry through with “implementation of lean principles.”
Belden said it will merge Grass Valley with Miranda Technologies, which provides hardware and software to the broadcast industry and has operations in Grass Valley. The only question at this point is whether what’s left of Grass Valley will stay in Nevada City or be moved to Miranda’s operations on Crown Point Circle.
The sale was made by Franciscan Partners, a San Francisco venture capital firm that bought “The Group” from Thompson in 2011 in what was basically an asset play to squeeze as much equity out of the company as possible. Franciscan had no interest in actually growing the business.
I saw this scenario play out when I worked for Ampex Corp. in the ’70s and ’80s, and the end result is not pretty. Ampex, the inventor of practical audio tape recording, videotape recording, and instant replay, was a Fortune 500 company when I worked there, a major player in every segment of broadcast technology except video switchers. That market was dominated by Grass Valley Group.
Ampex was sold in the early ’80s to Signal Companies of La Jolla, the former Signal Oil Co. that owned a mishmash of businesses like Mack Trucks and Rust Corp. It took them a couple of years to realize they didn’t want to make the heavy R-and-D investments required to stay on top of the industry, so Ampex was sold to a private chemical firm.
Then the unraveling began. The company’s assets were sold off, the biggest blow coming when its video technology was bought by Sony Corp. When I was at Ampex, “Sony” was the only four-letter word you couldn’t speak.
Ampex went through bankruptcy in 2008 and is now a small, privately owned digital recorder company, a sad ending to a real pioneer. “The Group” is probably the next one to enter that bone yard. The technology and product names will probably survive, but the company will be gone for good.
THE ANSWER IS: The third man from the left in the picture above was a Stanford graduate student who worked part-time on the project. Ampex offered him a job after he completed his studies, but Ray Dolby had other plans.