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Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Ultimate Entrepreneur

In 1988 the book “The Ultimate Entrepreneur” was a biography of a man I had the good fortune to work for and with. Engineer Ken Olsen founded Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) with a loan of $70,000 and built the second largest computer company in the world, challenging IBM for first place. His company thrived and grew in the face of competition from no less than five other competitors in the same state of Massachusetts. He has been described as the most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business.

He had an idea, move computing out of the glass house (such as the clean rooms of IBM), and put it in the hands of engineers and scientists. That was the start of the minicomputer era, and boom it did! It led to DEC moving computing into the hands of small and medium businesses. Ken is often credited with much of the innovation that created the personal computer. The next step…mobile computing is here today largely due to the initial idea Ken had.

So what are some of the attributes that drove this entrepreneur?    

Dependable and trustworthy. Even in tough times, while Ken was in control, the company had a no layoff policy. This created an environment where new ideas were brought forward freely. There was no shortage of projects seeking funding.

Supporter of innovation. Most good ideas were funded to the extent that some funded projects competed with each other under the concept that only the best would survive. In the extreme the company introduced three different personal computers.

Charitable. Community service and higher education were actively supported. Computers were donated to schools. Employees were not only encouraged to obtain higher education but also to teach others. College building funds were supported. I was able to get funding for a program to support children of employees attending advanced education programs. All employees received a bonus at the end of the year and a turkey at thanksgiving, which could be donated to needed families.

Humble. Ken did not like publicity, often donating anonymously. He did not make future promises but let the products speak for themselves. He received many awards for his successes. I had the opportunity to witness Ken getting an award from the King of Sweden. He seemed uncomfortable. 

How do you and your company compare?

Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


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