Ken Miller was an influential engineer and entrepreneur in the early history of Computer Communications. Educated as an analog engineer, Miller joined Codex Corporation in 1972 when it was a small company with approximately $2 million in revenue. When he resigned, in 1980, he had become Director of Modem Development and Codex had become the leading modem company with revenue of roughly $100 million. He left because he wanted Codex to enter the dial-up modem business and his managers disagreed. Frustrated, he soon learned that he had expertise and skills in great demand. He started a small consulting company, and luckily got drawn into the just emerging local area networking market. In January 1981, he founded Concord Data Systems (CDS). CDS would be the only data communication start-up to also innovate a local area network (LAN). Miller would become influential in the political workings of IEEE Committee 802, and the mechanics of how Ethernet became the first LAN standard and token bus and token ring became equal standards. Standards making took time and effort from running CDS, however, and problems ensued. Miller’s enthusiasm and penchant for hard work could not compensate for his lack of executive experience, as the rapidly changing LAN market punished weak strategies and weaker management execution. Miller refused to concede, even as problems compounded.
I met Ken when CDS was trying to raise venture capital from new investors. There was no doubt that he was a personable and engaging individual; yet equally, a walk around the company’s offices, and particularly its manufacturing operations, felt more like a disorganized start-up than a firm needing growth capital. My partners and I turned the investment down, even as we hoped the best for him. It did, however, make it easy to both ask for an interview and set a tone of talking to a friend. In all fairness, trying to accomplish what Miller and his team took on, that is entering both the dial-up modem and token-bus LAN markets, would have challenged the best executives. Here is a story of a start-up that seemed to be on the road to success and then encountered technological problems, way too much competition and a strategy that hobbled an overwhelmed management team.
Keywords: Codex, Concord Data Systems, LAN, IEEE Committee 802