The Heart of Communication: Inside Plantronics’ Transformation into Poly
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
It’s one of history’s most famous quotes, transmitted from the moon back to earth by Neil Armstrong. And it was powered by a headset designed and built by Plantronics, a company born and based in Santa Cruz.
Founded in 1961 by two pilots who wanted better aviation headsets, Plantronics grew from a seedling company to being used by NASA within 10 years.
“We enabled all of those transmissions and communications between people on the ground in Houston and the astronauts in space,” says Poly VP of Brand and Corporate Design Darrin Caddes. “Those headsets that enabled those transmissions from the moon were handbuilt right here in Santa Cruz.”
Just the Beginning
It’s an impressive bit of local trivia, and the company is just getting started.
Recently, the Plantronics team joined forces with Polycom, a San Jose-based company that has grown from creating conference phones into creating better conferencing in a broader sense, including video conferencing.
Together, the two companies formed Poly, and they have communication electronics covered.
“When you think about Plantronics being personal audio–being worn on or around the body—and Polycom being in the environment,” says *Caddes, “it really is a beautiful marriage of product portfolios and our potential in enterprise environments to make a much bigger impact. We can address problems from a systematic level as opposed to just on the product level.”
A Question of Identity
Combining the two companies, however brought up a question of identity. With creation of a new company came the opportunity to create something entirely new, to “shed some of the legacy mentality as an organization and step into something together where we really unite as one company under a different umbrella,” explains Caddes. The problem with doing that is that, in shedding identities, they would walk away from 57 years of equity.
“For a communications company to walk away from the most significant transmission in the history of humankind,” says Caddes, “is kind of a crazy notion.”
Instead, they worked to draft off the legacy and rich heritage of both companies.
“We wanted to maintain a lot of the heritage,” says Caddes, “but at the same time lean into something new.”
Behind the Name
Poly is the result. The word poly means many, and the new team found beauty in that—a “metaphor for all of us coming together,” explains Caddes.
The name is derivative of Polycom, and the Poly brand symbol, a propellor crafted from three P’s, has layers of symbolism and gives nod to the pilots who founded Plantronics back in 1961.
“We still have a lot of rich history in aviation,” says Caddes. “That’s really important to us.”
The goal with the new name, and the new company mark, was, as Caddes explains, “to maintain the heritage, maintain the legacy and let all of that act as inertia to help push us into the future–the next generation of the company.”
At Home in Santa Cruz
Plantronics has been in Santa Cruz for almost 60 years and Caddes says the company has no intention of leaving. In fact, they’re looking for ways to further infuse the brand with some of the innovative California culture—more specifically, Santa Cruz culture.
“I want our community to know that our heart is still here,” says Caddes.
The local headquarters was designed to reflect Santa Cruz culture, including showcasing surfboards shaped by local shapers, imagery of our mountains, redwoods and ocean, and repurposed barn wood that was pulled down locally. Company headquarters around the world reflect their local environment and culture, but Caddes explains that they all have “a little taste of Santa Cruz.”
Beyond Sight and Sound
Poly brings renewed energy and vision for both companies. For decades, Plantronics and Polycom designed for speech, sound and sight. Now they’re going for something bigger.
“We were designing for the head,” says Caddes. “Now we’re designing for the heart.”
The company’s mission going forward isn’t just video and communication, it’s content sharing and helping people to collaborate and connect seamlessly. As enterprise environments become more dense and include more open workspace, and people work from wherever they are, including coffee shops, coworking spaces, airports, cars, at home, and in the office, Poly aims to be there.
The company is focused on helping people collaborate and “let the tech step out of the way.”
“Our role is to really provide opportunities,” says Caddes. “Not only for people to connect and share and collaborate, but to do that on a deeper, more meaningful level. This is the genesis of Poly.”
Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist based in Santa Cruz.