When the break-up of AT&T took effect on January 1, 1982, Audrey MacLean was the western regional manager at Tymnet, responsible for sales and service operations. MacLean had joined Tymnet in 1977 after starting her career at its parent company, Tymshare, five years earlier. Tymnet was initially a public data network, but in 1981, Tymnet began to sell private data networks to customers such as Bank of America. MacLean was instrumental in making that sale for Tymnet and saw first-hand how companies were responding to the instability in the telecommunications market by taking responsibility for their own voice and data networks.
At Tymnet, MacLean was also tasked with signing up customers for an engineering project to test a high-bandwidth communication network from New York to San Francisco. The project was headed by Roger Chrisman, and what immediately became clear to both was the need for a switch that could interconnect multiple T1 lines. MacLean realized that the opportunities were huge for anyone who could develop a product to integrate voice and data traffic on the same backbone network. Together with Chrisman, they proposed the idea to Tymnet management. But management did not envision themselves as a hardware company, preferring to focus on their core business of building X.25 networks and selling their own software to manage these networks. So, in July of ’82, MacLean, Chrisman and Chrisman’s wife, Sarah Schlinger, left Tymnet to start their own company, PCM, to develop the T1 switch.
Knowing they needed a team with additional engineering and leadership experience, they enlisted three more co-founders; Robbie Forkish, a programmer who had coded much of the X.25 network management software at Tymnet; Walt Gill, who had been chief engineer at Avantek and who had extensive experience in telecommunications networks; and Bruce Smith, an ex COMSAT executive who would become CEO. They incorporated Network Equipment Technologies (NET) in May of ’83. As a condition of their first round of funding, the team needed to establish the existence of potential customers. To this end, MacLean organized a series of meetings with Fortune 500 companies up and down the East Coast to discuss their communications needs and the commercial potential for NET’s product. As Bruce Smith remembers in his interview, their responses were more than encouraging: Most responded along the lines of, “I don’t believe you can do it, but if you can do it, I’ll buy a truckload.” NET closed its first round of financing of $4.3 million in August of ’83. Their first product the IDNX T1 switch, released in January 1985, was an immediate success.
In this interview, MacLean gives a detailed description of the circumstances surrounding the founding of NET and the recruitment of its talented team of founders. I was impressed with MacLean’s intelligence and eloquence; it was clear from the beginning that she had a deep understanding of the market opportunity that NET was established to pursue and was essential to its success. Readers interested in NET should also read interviews of Bruce Smith and Robbie Forkish.
Keywords: Tymshare, Tymnet, Network Equipment Technologies (NET), T1 multiplexer,