Failed retirement leads to success as OnStream CEO
Bill Beierwaltes will tell you he flunked retirement.
Lucky for several businesses and hundreds of employees he did. At 57, Beierwaltes is chairman and CEO of Longmont-based OnStream. The Loveland resident is also the Bravo! 2000 Entrepreneur for the city he calls home.
Recruited in August 1999 to lead OnStream by its parent Philips Electronics of the Netherlands, Beierwaltes’ past history includes three successful startups and a stint at Hewlett-Packard Co.
Originally from the Chicago area, Beierwaltes moved to Loveland in 1964 to join H-P. He holds two undergraduate degrees from the University of Michigan – electrical engineering and math – and an MBA from Colorado State University.
Beierwaltes left Hewlett-Packard in 1974 to work on startup Colorado Time Systems, which developed computerized timing systems for competitive swimming events. He launched Colorado Memory Systems in 1985, making tape backup systems for personal computers and the PC industry. H-P purchased Colorado Memory Systems in 1992.
That sale sparked the retirement that Beierwaltes eventually “flunked” in 1997 when he launched OneStep Software. That company was making two software products – a personal information manager and a digital jukebox – when Beierwaltes sold it in 1999.
Philips Electronics sought the depth of experience Beierwaltes’ resume reveals when it recruited him last year. The company needed someone with the background and vision to take its product to market.
“Philips had developed the technology at the component level, but had not done anything at the drive level,” Beierwaltes said. “So we took the recording heads and the proprietary chips and made them into drives. That’s part of what OnStream is today.”
If OnStream is not yet an industry leader, the company holds leading technology, Beierwaltes said. And it has set some records, selling more product in its first year than any company in the tape-drive industry before, he said.
OnStream also has raised more money than any company has yet raised for tape technology: $125 million.
Beierwaltes attributes those successes to OnStream’s technology.
“The technology is an inexpensive technology, but at the same time a very advanced technology, compared to competitors,” he said.
If Beierwaltes brings ample experience to OnStream, he said he faces a new set of challenges against competitors like Hewlett-Packard Co., Sony, IBM and Seagate. “It’s different than I’ve ever seen before.”
Things have changed, too, he said. “In the old days you could get magazine editorial awards as validation of your technology and product. But that doesn’t work anymore. Too many magazines are giving awards.”
Still, product validation is required in the marketplace, Beierwaltes said. Now that requirement is realized through original equipment manufacturers such as Dell, Compaq or IBM “who put their name on your product and resell it as their own.”
That is in the works for OnStream, Beierwaltes said, and once accomplished, it’s a big step. “We don’t have anyone to announce at this moment. It’s in process and we’re optimistic.”
His role now is one of salesmanship, Beierwaltes said. “My opinion is that the head of the company should both be vision holder and chief salesman … able to sell the concept of the company to anyone.”
The challenge now is to get the vision implemented through validation and good products.
Once the company is established, “then the vision holder becomes somewhat less important for a few years and the executive becomes more important.”
On the product side, Beierwaltes sees OnStream moving into new areas and new products, including digital video, a marketplace rife with opportunity.
“The digital-video market is not a market which has any leadership, any leading products or brands,” he said.
For Beierwaltes the future holds the work of getting OnStream stabilized, working well and profitably. Beyond that, the next opportunity or retirement, perhaps, looms five to six years out.
“I flunked retirement after Colorado Memory Systems, but I did manage to retire for a few years,” he said. “The idea there was to give payback to the family and my kids, who were still in school.”
Those were important years, Beierwaltes said, that yielded richly in time spent with his family.
“What I’d preach to entrepreneurs in general is you should always have the goal of balance, even though the day-to-day is hard to manage. Balance in one’s life, balance in work and family … you can’t let that go or you become one-dimensional.”