Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

KU alumnus, L. Joseph Bauman, recalls power of building PC

August 11, 2001

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L. Joseph Bauman took his seat around the conference table, looked into the eyes of his fellow IBM engineers and took a deep breath.

It would be another 13 months before Bauman and the 10 other members of the company's "Project Chess" team could exhale.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the unveiling of IBM's
first personal computer a product Lawrence resident L. Joseph
Bauman helped create as a member of the company's PC task force.
Today, Bauman is president and chief executive officer of
Lawrence-based Cardinal Brands. In his office Friday, Bauman
reviewed photos he received to commemorate production of IBM
computers. "It was an exciting time," he said.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the unveiling of IBM's first personal computer a product Lawrence resident L. Joseph Bauman helped create as a member of the company's PC task force. Today, Bauman is president and chief executive officer of Lawrence-based Cardinal Brands. In his office Friday, Bauman reviewed photos he received to commemorate production of IBM computers. "It was an exciting time," he said.

Twenty years ago Sunday ? on Aug. 12, 1981, ? the task force unveiled its fast-track product: IBM's first personal computer.

"Nobody had any idea it would take off like it did," Bauman recalled this week, inside his office above an Eddie Bauer store in downtown Lawrence. "We suspected it would be significant, but we didn't think it would be this huge and revolutionize the world."

The new product ? a $1,565 base-model, IBM desktop computer ? would bring microcomputing to the mass market and give birth to a business and social revolution. It would build Intel into a chipmaking power, make Bill Gates the world's richest man and open up the Internet to a world beyond academic research and super-secret government operations.

And Bauman ? who would leave IBM in 1990 to become business dean at Kansas University ? got in on the ground floor. As an IBM manufacturing manager, he was the task force member responsible for lining up suppliers and getting the components necessary for putting a PC together.

"It was quite a ride," said Bauman, who left KU in 1998 and now is president, chief executive officer and chairman of Cardinal Brands, 643 Mass. "I remember us having arguments about the total production. We were looking at a five-year product life, with total production being 150,000 to 250,000 (units), total.

"The explosion in volume was almost immediate and just orders of magnitude above what we anticipated."

IBM sold about 3 million PCs during its initial product life. This year alone, the entire industry expects 140 million PCs to be sold, generating $174 billion in revenues, according to Gartner Dataquest.

In 1980, Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore already had been selling their own desktop computers, but the entry of IBM's big name gave the industry a push. The IBM model used Intel chips and ran on an operating system devised by an emerging software company in Seattle known as Microsoft.

"We found Bill Gates," Bauman said, recalling a handful of meetings both men attended. "He had the advantage of being able to get what 100 programmers would have in their heads into one head. It was obvious he was a smart man."

Bauman joined IBM in 1965 as an associate engineer, four years after earning his mechanical engineering degree from KU. He worked his way up the corporate ladder and eventually became the company's director of materials, overseeing 13,000 IBM employees.

At Cardinal Brands, Bauman leads a work force of 2,100 employees in five plants, including the former Adams Business Forms operation in downtown Topeka. Cardinal Brands ? producer of Adams forms, Cardinal ring binders and Hazel business accessories, among others ? was formed a year ago with the merger of Adams and Eagle OPG of St. Louis.

Bauman may use a Compaq PC at his office ? "I don't try to interfere with what my people think is best for us," he said ? but Bauman still relies on his IBM experiences every day. The products may change, but the principles remains the same.

"Business is business," he said.

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