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Ken Olsen

Ken OlsenAKA Kenneth Harry Olsen

Born: 20-Feb-1925
Birthplace: Bridgeport, CT
Died: 6-Feb-2011
Location of death: Indianapolis, IN
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business, Engineer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation

Military service: US Navy (1944-46)

Electronics enthusiast and entrepreneur Ken Olsen founded Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1957 with Harlan Anderson. They oversaw its development into an industry leader in early business computers, networking architecture, operating systems, and programming languages, and a leading force in the second wave of computing, which saw data processing systems reduced from enormous, multi-million dollar room-sized mainframes to connected networks of smaller devices that were affordable for small and mid-sized businesses.

Digital's mini-computers, most notably its PDP and VAX models, were huge by today's standards but much smaller and more flexible than their predecessors, allowing numerous networked users to access the same databases. By the mid-1980s Digital was the world's second-largest computer company, trailing only IBM.

Olsen was trained in electronics while he was in the Navy, and after being discharged from the military he used his GI Bill benefits to attend MIT. At Digital he was known for a personable manner, frequently popping up in unexpected corners of the company's facilities to chat with workers. His annual letter to stockholders traditionally opened with a recounting of what he felt were his worst mistakes of the year before.

Olsen's biggest mistake at Digital was his failure to foresee the rise of microcomputers. He was openly disdainful of the concept, stating publicly that "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home," and predicting that the business of personal computers would soon "fall flat on its face." The rising popularity of PCs in the 1990s eroded Digital's industry dominance; Olsen was squeezed out of the board room in 1992, and six years later the company was acquired by Compaq. He died in 2011.

Father: Oswald Olsen
Mother: Elizabeth Svea
Brother: Stanley
Wife: Eeva-Liisa Aulikki Valve (m. 12-Dec-1950, d. 2-Mar-2009, one daughter, two sons)
Daughter: Ava Memmen
Son: James
Son: Glenn (d.)

    High School: Stratford High School, Stratford, CT (1944)
    University: BS Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1950)
    University: MS Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1952)
    Administrator: Trustee, Gordon College Massachusetts (1961-2011)
    Administrator: Life Member, MIT Corporation (1971-2011)

    Digital Equipment Corporation Founder and CEO (1957-92)
    Member of the Board of Advanced Modular Solutions (as Chairman)
    Member of the Board of Digital Equipment Corporation (1957-92)
    Member of the Board of Ford Motors
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1990
    Norwegian Ancestry
    Swedish Ancestry


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