by Daniel Tymann
Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation ushered in a monumental era of technology that established industry standards and created a new model for corporate culture & practices. And with over 50 years of service to Gordon, he lends his support & name to the new science facility at the College.
Bill Gates, Thomas Edison and Jack Welch are names we all recognize. We use descriptors like inventor, philanthropist, entrepreneur, leader, CEO, technologist, scientist, visionary and pioneer. Ken Olsen, founder of the revolutionary Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), earned a place alongside these innovative giants but also brought a heart for Christ to his business endeavors &, fortunately for the College, a commitment to Gordon's mission.
Ken Olsen has served the College for more than 50 years with leadership and vision. His association began because he saw in Gordon a place committed to Christ but also open to inquiry. His life had demonstrated the compatibility-in fact the inseparability-of the mind and the soul. He found that Gordon instilled those values in generations of young Christians: "Gordon strives to graduate students who feel at ease with science, economics and the humanities while holding on to their faith."
As a Gordon trustee 1961-93, Olsen provided both spiritual and business insight. Working with fellow trustees such as Tom Phillips, former chairman of Raytheon, and evangelist Billy Graham, he negotiated the successful allocation of board seats and College resources when the College and Gordon-Conwell Seminary became separate entities in 1970. Through his Stratford Foundation he has contributed to numerous capital and building projects in support of all areas of academics, athletics, music and the arts. A critical part of his legacy was bringing the College into the new era of technology with donations and guidance to centralize data and lay the groundwork for a fully networked campus. Olsen's vision for technology and his support of our mission have positioned Gordon for what lies ahead. The College is close to fulfilling the vision of students and alumni with a global reach-anywhere-, anytime-access to information resources.
The "Neighborhood Edison"
A native of Stratford, Connecticut, Ken Olsen began his career working summers in a machine shop. Fixing radios in his basement gave him the reputation of a "neighborhood Edison." After serving in the Navy 1944-46, he earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was on the staff of MIT's Digital Computer Laboratory for seven years, including as leader of the section of MIT Lincoln Laboratory which designed and built the critical, high performance computers used for air defense applications, setting performance standards in that industry.
In 1957 Olsen, along with Harlan Anderson, an MIT colleague, formed DEC with an initial investment of $70,000. Ken, Harlan and Ken's brother, Stan, were the first three employees, producing printed circuit logic modules used by engineers to test electronic equipment. During this time he received patents for key electronic components like a saturable switch, a diode transformer gate circuit, magnetic core memory, and the line printer buffer-cornerstones of much of the hardware innovation that was soon to occur. In the 30 years that followed, DEC became the second largest computer company in the world and is credited with the invention of the minicomputer. Olsen led DEC as president and CEO through the design, manufacture and service of multiple generations of computer software and hardware products, with peak employment of over 110,000 employees in 97 countries.
DEC Ushers in Technology Era
Olsen and his company pioneered and set standards for program languages, operating systems, networking architectures, computer peripherals, application software, component and circuit technology, manufacturing processes and business practices which became the foundation for today's information and computer networking industry. As a former colleague relates, "When it came to technology, Ken had the uncanny ability to see into the future."
The corporate culture he established was informed by his Christian faith and belief, bringing servant leadership to his industry. The culture he created at DEC was one of employee recognition and empowerment, innovation, customer focus, total quality management, employee and company loyalty, frugality, family and work balance, and integrity. Moreover, Olsen regularly had coffee with his production-line employees, drove an older model car and provided no privileged parking for executives. When it was time for his retirement, he rejected plans for a major celebration and chose to have cake in the cafeteria with his employees (high-level management were not invited). Ken had great loyalty and affection for his employees; one former DEC leader remembers Ken's response when asked for words to share at a DEC retirement dinner: "Tell them I'm so proud of their contributions to DEC and the part they played in the great culture of the company." Companies such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard have all benefited and grown out of the leadership, principles and success of Ken Olsen and DEC.
Olsen did not seek or welcome personal acclaim, but recognition sought him out. In 1986 Fortune Magazine named him the "most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business," followed by inductions into multiple halls of fame including the National Inventor's Hall of Fame (1990) and the Computer History Museum (1996). Many organizations have benefited from Olsen's service and philanthropy. He has served on the boards of several prestigious organizations including the Computer Science and Engineering Board of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.; and as a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee.
Inspired by the passion for inquiry that is Gordon's hallmark, in 2003 Ken and wife Aulikki Olsen made a generous gift commitment to initiate a center for the sciences in the heart of the College's campus. "Even though I have been an entrepreneur, I have always been a scientist first and foremost," Olsen says. "Science is more than a study of molecules and calculations; it is the love of knowledge and the continued search for truth. The study of the sciences promotes humility, leaving us with a clear sense that we will never understand all there is to know. At the same time, science provides a defense for truth, authenticates Christianity and stems from the nature of God." This building will be named the Ken Olsen Science Center-the first time Olsen has agreed to have his name associated with a building.
The Ken Olsen Science Center will continue the quest for the knowledge and truth of science, with an openness to explore new ideas and debate multiple viewpoints in the context of Christian faith and principles. It will be a place where our expert faculty, fine students, challenging curriculum, state-of-the-art facilities and education-enhancing technology will enable the College to achieve its mission.
It is a privilege and honor that Gordon's new science center bears the name of Ken Olsen the inventor, philanthropist, entrepreneur, leader, CEO, technologist, scientist, visionary, pioneer and Christian.
Dan Tymann is vice president for advancement of science and technology. Previously he led manufacturing and engineering organizations for AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Cisco Systems. At Gordon he is responsible for fundraising efforts with a focus on science-particularly for the Heart of Discovery campaign-and provides leadership for technology operations and strategy. He and his wife, Andrea, have served for several years on the President's Advisory Council, and their daughter, Sarah, is a second-year music and sociology major at Gordon.