Ken Olsen, computing pioneer, passes

Ken Olsen, Who Built DEC Into a Power, Dies at 84


Ken Olsen, who helped reshape the computer industry as a founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, at one time the world’s second-largest computer company, died on Sunday. He was 84.


Mr. Olsen, who was proclaimed “America’s most successful entrepreneur” by Fortune magazine in 1986, built Digital on $70,000 in seed money, founding it with a partner in 1957 in the small Boston suburb of Maynard, Mass. With Mr. Olsen as its chief executive, it grew to employ more than 120,000 people at operations in more than 95 countries, surpassed in size only by I.B.M.

At its peak, in the late 1980s, Digital had $14 billion in sales and ranked among the most profitable companies in the nation.

But its fortunes soon declined after Digital began missing out on some critical market shifts, particularly toward the personal computer. Mr. Olsen was criticized as autocratic and resistant to new trends. “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business,” he said at one point. And in July 1992, the company’s board forced him to resign.

Six years later, Digital, or DEC, as the company was known, was acquired by the Compaq Computer Corporation for $9.6 billion.

But for 35 years the enigmatic Mr. Olsen oversaw an expanding technology giant that produced some of the computer industry’s breakthrough ideas.

In a tribute to him in 2006, Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, called Mr. Olsen “one of the true pioneers of computing,” adding, “He was also a major influence on my life.”

Comment: I worked for DEC for 2 years back in '77-79. At that time, DEC just passed $ 1 Billion in annual sales.

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