Colleagues: Bill Kress leaves a lasting tech legacy in Triangle
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Research Triangle Park, N.C. — It's hard to imagine that IBM would have become the powerhouse it did in the Triangle economy without the contribution of William "Bill" Kress.
And MCNC, which operates the statewide fiber-based broadband network known as the N.C. Research and Education Network, certainly wouldn't exist today without Kress' efforts to save it.
Those are among the tributes paid to Mr. Kress, a longtime IBM executive in North Carolina and a former CEO at MCNC.
Dick Daugherty, who ran IBM operations in North Carolina for years himself, and Joe Freddoso, the current chief executive officer at MCNC, warmly recalled Mr. Kress, who died after a long illness last week.
Holt Anderson of NCHICA remembers a "consummate gentleman" who served his community.
"Bill was one of the first IBMers in RTP in 1965," Daugherty tells WRALTechWire. "I came in 1973 and Bill worked for me.
"We worked together for approximately 23 years.
"He held key jobs since the start and was key to IBM's growth and success in RTP."
Daugherty should know. He helped create Centennial Campus at NCSU and is a driving force behind the current strategic plan to transform Research Triangle Park.
Mr. Kress joined IBM after graduating from Penn State University with a bachelor of science degree in 1960. He transferred to IBM's Triangle operation in 1965, rose through the ranks and retired as the senior executive for North Carolina operations. He retired in 1996.
However, the technology industry still needed Kress.
He took over as CEO at MCNC in 1998 where success and disaster seemed to strike at the same time.
An MCNC-backed startup, Cronos, was acquired by JDS Uniphase for some $200 million as the Internet boom was beginning to strike. This triggered demands from state legislative leaders that some of the profits be turned over to N.C. coffers. Meanwhile, state funding was drying up.
Freddoso takes over the story.
"In the late 90's the board of MCNC asked Bill to take over MCNC during a period of great transition. Until 1998, MCNC received a direct state appropriation to support its research efforts and support a small amount of the operation of NCREN. This state funding was going away in 1998.
"Bill did a masterful job during this transition and also helped negotiate the sale of Cronos to JDS Uniphase.
"Proceeds from the sale reimbursed the State of North Carolina for all funds MCNC had received from the state. Sale proceeds also created an endowment that has grown to significantly support the capital needs of NCREN today.
"Bill took what was to be a one year job and stayed for three years.
"MCNC would not exist today if it wasn't for the leadership of Bill Kress."
Kress retired from MCNC in 2001 and was succeeded by financier Bill Moore. MCNC later hired Charlotte technology business leader Dave Rizzo, who shepherded MCNC through a split that eventually led to the founding of NC IDEA. NC IDEA is using money dating back to the Chronos sale as an endowment to fund startups across North Carolina with non-dilutive grants of up to $50,000.
Freddoso was hired to run the remaining MCNC operation, which focused on NCREN that dates back three decades and was built by MCNC.
"Bill was one of the first folks I called when I took the MCNC president and CEO's job in 2007," freddoso recalls. "His advice and counsel have helped me be a better leader and given me a great appreciation of MCNC history and North Carolina Technology Industry history. My thoughts and prayers go to [his wife] Bonnie and the Kress family."
Before taking the MCNC job, Mr. Kress chaired the Triangle United Way Campaign.
Anderson, a former MCNC executive who now runs the North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance, recalled how Kress sought to help beyond just business.
"Bill was a consummate gentleman and contributor to the social fabric of our community," Anderson says. "As a corporate leader and later guiding the transition of MCNC, he demonstrated his business acumen and good sense."
A celebration of the life of Bill Kress is scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. at Mitchell Funeral Home, 7209 Glenwood Avenue, in Raleigh.
WRAL Local Tech Wire Publisher and Editor Rick Smith dishes out tidbits from the local technology sector. Read more articles…
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