June 8, 2019 – By Dave Marquard, WEMCO Tech Chair
Curiosity has often driven me to action. In 1982 I purchased one of the world’s first portable computers, the Osborne 1. It weighed almost 25 pounds and didn’t have an on-board battery. It had to be plugged into a wall outlet to power up and use. However, it was still classified as a portable computer because it could be hand-carried.
The Osborne 1 shipped with a large bundle of software worth almost as much as the computer. That software included some of the most powerful and pioneering programs of the day such as D-Base2 for data sorting; SuperCal, an early spreadsheet, and WordStar, a leading word processor application that had a dominant market share that lasted until the mid-1980s.
I was a young VP at a small welding equipment manufacturing company, which while a market leader in its small niche, could never seem to break out of a slow growth cycle. My new “computer aided” ability to process large amounts of data, prepare “what if” scenarios, and then sum it all up quickly in a word-processed proposal, was enormously helpful. It enabled me to make a positive contribution to the company that impressed my superiors, peers, and subordinates.
The Osborne 1 enabled us to form teams that used its data enhancing speed benefits to efficiently develop new products. By the end of my first year we had increased new products revenues by 20% and profits by more than 30%. We never stopped this impressive growth curve for the nearly twelve years I worked there, and we became the fastest growing and model division of our fortune 500 conglomerate. My insistence on investing in and using the latest technology had a huge payoff for not only the company but for my career.
Later the conglomerate was purchased by the American business superstar, Warren Buffet. I had the privilege of meeting and learning from him. Buffet even taught one of my evening MBA classes. There were a few dozen of us in his banking and finance class and Buffet was so interesting and so brimming with insight that he caused our collective jaws to drop. Mr. Buffet provided us with the road map and principles that helped him develop a large net worth of $48 billion. He was a big believer in maximizing technology and much of what he conveyed to me I have tried to incorporate in how my businesses are run, even today..
Because the Osborne 1 was a portable computer, it had a similar impact at home with our two young children. Both wanted to learn about their father’s new computer. My wife and I believe it inspired both of our young children to develop a life-long love of numbers and mathematics. Those skills can take you a long way.
For example, our son by age 10 was writing short programming strings in foreign languages for an emerging computer company at the time, Apple. He would go on to become an endowed scholar in electrical engineering and an undergrad teaching assistant for computer science at Duke, while helping to develop some of the major software programs for Microsoft, Cisco, and Google. Today, he is a serial software entrepreneur and was a speaker a few years ago at a WEMCO Annual Meeting. Our daughter would achieve similar success at Michigan, Case Western Law School, and the Harvard Business School and go on to become CEO for all of our family enterprises.
How much of their success and my success can be attributed to my first investment in the Osborne 1 portable computer or the string of other personal and organizational tech investments I made? It’s anyone’s guess. But Information is power. Technology is a source of great personal empowerment that enables its users to hit home runs at home and at work.