Like any successful human endeavor, there are many who claim fatherhood. There were actually many true and some untrue claimants. Some of these came aboard the VMEbus train several years after it had left the station. They did, however, fulfill a valuable role as VMEbus pioneers. The actual birth of VMEbus was painful, though exciting. I will relate my role as accurately as I can, with no purpose of denigrating anyone else’s memory or participation.
It starts with the [Motorola] 6800 microprocessor and the Exercisor. In those days every manufacturer designed their own non-standard boards and guarded them zealously. The engineers who established the Exercisor board parameters did a good job with a fairly small board. When we started Microsystems, we inherited this head start. We immediately saw that the same boards that we would develop for the Exercisor could fit nicely in a commercial computer system business. We gleefully developed a prodigious 5-year plan to launch this business. Our plan was to furnish the systems hardware and systems software, limited to operating system and languages. We had already lined up independent established distributors who would handle sales and service and develop user application software. A marriage made in heaven.
Glenn Iaggi (our boss), Dick Ruth, and I made a triumphant trip to Shaumberg to excite the brass with our creativity. All the brass was there. About halfway into our presentations, Motorola President John Mitchell abruptly stopped us and told us we were computer retreads who would diminish his base business profits. He strongly stated that Motorola would never be in the computer business. We protested that Motorola was already in the revolutionary computer business by virtue of the microprocessors. When I asked him if there was no place for creative people who could lead Motorola into the future, he said there wasn’t. We packed up our papers in complete defeat and left the boardroom. We really didn’t know if we had been fired or not. We weren’t. Bob Galvin would visit us quite often for our “Moments of Madness” looks into the future, and told us he understood us and appreciated our forward thinking. We partially satisfied our longings by offering our Exercisor as an end-use system in the process automation market. It wasn’t a good fit and our success was modest at best.
The 68000 series came along, and our expansion desires were rekindled. Our Microsystems engineers designed the EXORmacs development system. Max Loesel (our Europe Manager) made me aware of the European developing standard called Eurocards. It came in single, double, and triple widths. I argued for this approach. I lost because of strongly stated engineering requirements and distaste for anything European at that time. Another reason was that engineers from the large computer businesses were used to big boards. There was no way we could sell these big VERSAbus modules in the process automation market. Max, however, didn’t give up. His engineers retrofitted the VERSAbus onto double Eurocards in his Munich “skunk works.” He kept me up-to-date and even took me to see some of his prospective customers. I was hooked, and the result was called Versa Module Europe. Its acronym became “VME.”
There was a certain NIH feeling in Phoenix and a little “we/they” animosity. I was delighted with the VMEbus market prospects because of not only its size, but also more importantly because it was a standard that other manufacturers could use. The trick now was to get management acceptance and approval. On a trip to the Shaumberg Corporate Planning, I explained that with VMEbus we could catch Intel, whose Multibus II was quickly gobbling up the market. The next idea was that if we shared the VMEbus with other manufacturers, we would swamp the market with VMEbus boards and bury Intel. Sharing a standard technology was something Intel would never consider. Just then John Mitchell looked in and said these two ideas were stupid. His rationale was:
- You have already spent a ton of money developing VERSAbus. Why spend it again just changing the size?
- You have spent a lot of money developing the technology. Why on earth would you want to give it away?
I told him the KOA Camp story. Will we settle for 100 percent of a small piece of the pie, or get rich with a smaller percentage of a gigantic pie? He reiterated that computer retreads were dangerous. He didn’t say no, so I took it as tacit approval. Motorola Microsystems embraced the concepts. We sent Jim Gunderson to explore the cooperation concept with Philips/Signetics and United Technologies [key 68000 supporters], and they were ecstatic. Thus began a series of meetings to determine which company would build which boards to share with each other. This entire group spent a lot of time with attorneys to make sure we avoided any anti-trust situations.
Philips/Signetics jumped on board and designed some boards. Time went slowly by with modest results. Management changes were made at the Corporate and Semiconductor levels. Dick Ruth was fired and this troubled me greatly. I was asked if I wanted to be interviewed for his job and I quickly declined. The new Microsystems manager knew nothing of our dream. New blood was inserted into Microsystems who I felt were nice guys but incompetent to lead Microsystems to any creative new heights. They had zero marketing and/or business acumen. Yes, I was totally disillusioned with Motorola. I told my new boss that I was going to leave Motorola but I would stay long enough to produce a comprehensive five-year plan to launch VMEbus into the process automation business. This had been my background with General Electric. I told him I would do it with Shaumberg Planning cooperation and management approval. I knew enough from our failures with top management to omit any land mines. For example, I would never mention computer systems, but rather call them “process controllers.”
The plan was completed, but I felt little understood by the new Microsystems. I left Motorola and joined Dick Ruth with GEC of England. They were developing a super mini-computer and needed some marketing and business planning. A few years later I got a call from Jim Gunderson of Microsystems, saying that VMEbus was going nowhere, and did I have any ideas to get it moving? I said I would do an international study if the three VMEbus principals would foot the bill. They pledged about $300,000 and hired me. I listened and made speeches all over the United States and Europe. I painted an alluring picture of a business that could inure to one billion dollars in five years (and it did). The response was a standing ovation in each location. They each wanted a longer private meeting. This we did, and the results were stunning. They all wanted a piece of a new VMEbus adventure.
The resulting consulting report was easy for me to write because my previously conceived ideas were validated. I presented the report to Motorola, Philips/Signetics, and United Technologies in Las Vegas. All three companies eagerly accepted the formation of an International VMEbus Trade Association … hence VITA was born. The report covered the structure of VITA and how it would operate in detail.
The next step in the report was to hire an executive director. It was decided that each company would produce a candidate. Each candidate would visit each company, which would result in an appointment. Motorola voted for me, but the others had some reservations. They had two concerns about me. One was that I had been an employee of Motorola and might be biased. The other was that I had a reputation as an entrepreneur and owned several outside businesses. I told each that I admired Motorola very much, but had left them two years ago with much disappointment. On the question of allocation of my time, I said I would write a binding contract to limit my outside activities. I said VITA would be my burning passion, and that if I had nothing else, I had integrity. I was hired and started immediately.
The starting point was selling VITA membership in several classifications according to the plan. This went extremely well, and we then developed the Compatible Products Directory (CPD), VITA Journal, Mailing Lists, et al. We also published the VMEbus specification, as well as a VMEbus technical design manual. We held technical seminars and participated in shows all over the world. We established a very successful VITA office in Europe with brilliant Zoltan Hunor as director. We also had satellite offices in Tokyo and Moscow. We were able to get the U.S. Navy to standardize on VMEbus, then the Army and Air Force. Soon all the world’s military forces followed suit. A major accomplishment was the reduction of Intel’s percentage of the market from 95 percent to zero. They eventually discontinued their Multibus II board operations. Mission accomplished. I retired in 1995 and have not followed the progress of VITA or the VMEbus since then. VITA was the high point of my professional life, and I am eternally grateful to the very many fathers and pioneers of VMEbus.
VITA Technology Hall of Fame
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