THE ULTIMATE ENTREPRENEUR: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation by Glenn & George Harrar Rifkin

THE ULTIMATE ENTREPRENEUR: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation

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A savvy appraisal of Digital Equipment Corp. and its enigmatic founder. Rifkin and Harrar received no cooperation from Ken Olsen, the MIT-trained engineer who launched DEC in 1957 (at age 31) and continues to run it in high-handed if generally effective fashion. As editors at Computerworld, however, they had more than enough data and contacts to piece together a fascinating corporate history. At the time Olsen and his long-gone partner Harlan Anderson set up shop in a Massachusetts mill town, IBM bestrode the electronic data processing world like a colossus with its mainframe machines. Sensing opportunity at the lower end of the market, Olsen and a handful of associates pioneered minicomputers. Just over three decades later, DEC, a multinational with annual revenues approximating $13 billion and a payroll exceeding 115,000, is second only to Big Blue in the global computer industry. As the authors make clear, DEC's eye-catching growth was by no means effortless. Along its way to the top, for example, the company suffered defections by key employees who organized formidable rivals (most notably, Data General Corp.). DEC also missed out on the boom in personal computers, largely because the strong-willed Olsen (whose management style can most charitably be described as idiosyncratic) did not appreciate their potential until too late. So far, though, Digital Equipment has recovered strongly from every stumble to advance the state of the computing art. Indeed, the company is prospering currently on the strength of the protean VAX (for virtual address extension) line, which gives it a leadership position in networking systems. Rifkin and Harrar provide lucid explanations of how designers go about commercializing exotic computer technologies. They also have a feel for the drama and suspense involved in making decisions in a high-stakes business where today's breakthrough say be tomorrow's museum piece. In brief, then, an intriguing and well-handled account of a consequential enterprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Contemporary