Back in the early 1980s when I had the privilege of running the news department for a publication called Digital Review that covered all the happenings in and around Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), there was this little tiny company in Massachusetts called EMC that would regularly do battle with DEC.
It was a classic David versus Goliath story. EMC back then was making DEC-compatible memory for VAX systems. DEC took exception to anybody trying to make a living it what it perceived to be its backyard. Lawsuits flew while salespeople from the two companies brawled for customers.
One of the major protagonists in this battle was EMC co-founder Richard Egan, who passed away Friday after a battle with cancer. A true son of the Boston Irish, he grew up in the Dorchester section of Bean Town. The Irish are well known for being "gentle when stroked, and fierce when provoked." And back in the early 1980s, there was plenty of provocation to go around in the DEC marketplace. It didn't hurt that Egan was a former Marine helicopter pilot, either.c
This wasn't some titanic battle between corporations. It was personal. DEC was doing everything it could think of to put EMC out of business. Egan and EMC would not back down and were doing everything they could think of to survive. Eventually, EMC would not only survive the battle and go on to expand into the storage array business. It would exceedingly thrive. For those of us that were there in the early 1980s, it is no small irony today that EMC is a multi-billion IT institution, whereas DEC went on to be acquired by Compaq which in its turn was acquired by Hewlett-Packard.
Today many of the people that work at EMC, which has its worldwide headquarters just down the road from where DEC was founded, are alumni of DEC. Many of them also worked at one time for Data General, which back in the day was an arch-nemesis of DEC in the famous battle for the soul of a new machine. Several years after that battle, EMC acquired Data General's storage technologies and many of EMC's most popular storage products can trace their history back to Data General. If back in 1985 you said that EMC would one day eclipse both DEC and Data General, people would have laughed you out of the room.
The circumstances of anyone's passing are always deeply personal. Many people in this business today can trace their livelihoods back to the efforts of Egan. He was no doubt a polarizing figure who as many people loved as hated. And it was with some great surprise that Egan was actually named ambassador to Ireland in 2001, a job that at a minimum required diplomatic skills given the country's economic and political history.
Whether you knew him or not, there is almost nobody in this industry today who has not been affected one way or another by EMC. Without Egan, there would be no EMC. So when we look back over the history of this business, there's no doubt that Egan will be remembered as one of the towering personalities that not only shaped a company, but also helped build and define an industry.