During the 1960s, an upstart Minnesota company, Control Data, made an enormous impact on the computer industry with the help of a handful of engineers and executives led by William Norris and Seymour Cray.
The rise of Control Data from a company selling stock at $1 a share to a multi-national firm manufacturing the world’s fastest computers is an extraordinary story in itself. But author Donald M. Hall also examines how the success of Control Data primed the pump of local investment and facilitated the flowering of a medical device industry that still flourishes in the state. He follows the careers of Norris and Cray, but also of Earl Bakken and Manny Villanova; he describes the changing world of computer sales, but also the ups and downs experienced by ordinary investors as firms producing innovative products sought out new investors willing to fund further research.
It’s a brisk and fascinating read, a portrait of a heady time, with lessons for today’s investors.
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Table of Contents
The Birth of a Champion 3
Local Market, 1957-1959 37
Hot Stocks 51
Popular Delusions and Prosperity 77
Cinderella Grows Up 91
A Sleeper 111
A Meteor 130
Success and Hard Times 147
The Entrepreneur 171
Cray Research 192
What People are Saying About This
“In the October 2006 client letter, I wrote a lengthy paragraph about the passing of William C. (Bill) Norris, the founder of Control Data here in Minneapolis. I noted that the Twin Cities has three major economic segments which have propelled our growth over the years—food products, medical technology, and computer technology. The food industry, I noted, went back to the Pillsburys and the Bell family of General Mills, medical technology to Earl Bakken of Medtronic, and computer technology to Bill Norris of Control Data. You could refer to page 9 of that October ’06, letter in the client letter archive on our website, to read what I said then; having just read it again myself, I find it as interesting as when I wrote it. The founding of Control Data in 1957 really marked the beginning of an era in the Twin Cities that made history as it was unique and probably not duplicated again until the Boston Route 128 or Silicon Valley VC era many years later. All this has been laid out in compelling fashion in a new book titled Generation of Wealth by Donald M. Hall. Do yourself a favor and get this book, which will be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most other booksellers by the time you read this. Let Don take you back to that time nearly 60 years ago when a few talented men in search of independence from a large bureaucratic organization called Sperry Rand started Control Data, raising start–up funds without a broker sponsor at $1 per share, literally door to door and with gatherings of friends like a Tupperware party. It was indeed the beginning of an era written by a man who lived through much of it. Don Hall, now 76, worked as a young man as an analyst at Control Data and then for 20 years in the local securities industry. Some of you reading this will remember him from the old days of RJ Steichen, a brokerage which he owned part of with the late Jack Feltl.
“But let’s step back a bit. I was there, too, at that time. Well, almost. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with an MBA in 1956, and went to work as a securities analyst at the American National Bank and Trust Company on LaSalle Street in Chicago. That is a long story, most suited for my own book someday. In early 1959, I relocated to Rochester, MN as the junior member of a team managing the Mayo Foundation dollars. This was two years after the event referred to as the beginning of an era when Norris and others had raised capital to put Control Data on its way. So also was the stock on its way, a subject of coffee shop talk, even at the Mayo Clinic where the spectacular rise in the price of the stock was discussed almost daily because it was indeed like a rocket ship. By 1961 or so, the stock had gone to $100, but ultimately, adjusted for splits, that $1 stock became worth well over $700 per share. Millions were made, even by those who sold along the way to buy what became a very expensive car or house!
“But, I digress too much. As I said, I was there, and lived through most of it. Company after company followed in those footsteps raising capital at $1 per share or $1.15 if there was a broker—$1 for the company and $0.15 for the broker. They were well paid; imagine a 15% commission today! And on and on it went, some succeeding, some failing, but if you lived through it, as I did, this is a fascinating, well researched and well written book that will bring back memories. Even if you did not live through that period, you will find it captivating if you let Don take you back in time to experience it as if you were there. But this book is not just about Control Data; as the title suggests, you will read the story of Medtronic’s beginning as well as many others, such as Cray Research and Possis. You will also read about our one and only Manny Villafana, his successes (St. Jude) and failures (CABG Medical). As George Zimmer said with his signature slogan in the Men’s Wearhouse commercial, ‘I guarantee you will like it.’”
“A riveting narrative, deftly painted of interesting personalities, key events and how it all unfolded and continues to impact markets today. An excellent storyteller, Donald Hall brings focus, clarity, and color to a complicated subject. ”
George Bonniwell, former president, Craig–Hallum, Inc. brokerage firm
“A very engaging, readable narrative describing an important economic development in both the region and the country. ”
John Rollwagen, former Chairman and CEO of Cray Research
“Deeply researched . colorful . a significant contribution to Minnesota’s business history. ”
Dave Beal, retired columnist and executive business editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press
“Great job on the history of Control Data and the local market. Everybody from that period will love it. ”
Howard O’Connell, former president and chairman of John Kinnard and Co. brokerage firm
“A magnificent piece of work. Fascinating. ”
Norbert Berg, former deputy chairman of Control Data Corporation
“Very interesting. An excellent review of Control Data. ”
Dick Lareau, senior partner at the Oppenheimer law firm, former director of Control Data and member of the executive committee
“A wonderful history of local commerce.”
Dr. Arnold Leonard, M.D., Ph.D., former head of pediatric surgery at the University of Minnesota