Bill Moore Brings Financial Skills to MCNC Management Role

The technology research center is put in hands of a financial, business expert for the next several months. Search for permanent president to continue.

Second of a two-part series

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK … When former MCNC President Bill Kress decided to step down at the end of 2001, Marye Anne Fox, chairwoman of MCNC’s board of directors, had just one person in mind to take Kress’ place: Bill Moore.

As someone whose career has been in the world of finance, Moore, 62, would seem an unorthodox choice to head a nonprofit organization built around supercomputers, microprocessors and other technological gadgetry. But Fox and others who know Moore say his business acumen is exactly what MCNC needs to move beyond recent controversy and into a new era.

“I don’t think there’s any question that he’s the ideal guy to fill the job,” says Bill McCoy, an MCNC director who has worked with Moore at Chapel Hill money management firm Franklin Street Partners for years. “He’s an accomplished executive who understands businesses very well and knows what it takes for them to succeed.”

Fox notes that Moore’s time at Franklin Street has given him the eye of a venture capitalist, which necessitates picking up some technical expertise along the way. But his business background and the fact that he is able to commit the time needed to run MCNC are what really swayed her.

“He’s just a fantastic businessman, a fantastic person,” Fox says.

Out of retirement

Moore, who earned his MBA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded Trident Financial Corp. in Raleigh in 1975 and built the boutique investment bank into a national powerhouse by handling a succession of mutual savings and loan conversions and bank mergers. In 1999, he sold Trident to Cleveland-based Keycorp for millions in stock and retired.

“I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” he says. “I only wanted to be involved with organizations that did good work, that I believed in.”

With that in mind, Moore retained his partnership position at Franklin Street, became an adjunct professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business and took on a few board of directors seats, including one at MCNC.

He was there when Cronos Integrated Microsystems, an MCNC spinoff, was sold for $750 million to fiber-optic equipment supplier JDS Uniphase two years ago, netting MCNC about $200 million. And he was there during the subsequent flap over the big personal paydays Kress and former MCNC Chairman Sherwood Smith enjoyed because each had invested in Cronos. Both men were cleared last summer of any illegal insider dealing following an internal probe and investigations by the district attorneys of Wake and Durham counties.

Moore says he was surprised Fox asked anybody to step in on an interim basis, but Fox says there wasn’t enough time to hire a new president and properly handle a transition before Kress left.

“This is not an easy job to fill; there are a lot of skills needed,” Moore says. “I don’t want the job long term. One of the rules I set for myself in retirement was that I didn’t want to be the person who wakes up at 3 in the morning in a cold sweat trying to figure out what to do. … I violated that here.”

Fox says a search will begin in March and could last up to six months.

Public makeover needed, Moore says

Meanwhile, Moore’s familiarity with MCNC and his business savvy will provide a steady hand to guide the center as it considers restructuring its operations. He also wants to improve the damaged public image of the research center, which he says still has a duty to enhance North Carolina’s quality of life and economic development opportunities although it no longer receives state funding.

“It’s our fault that we received as much criticism (about the Cronos deal) as we did because we haven’t put forth enough effort to tell our story,” he says. “MCNC has been a phenomenal success for the people of North Carolina. Very few things start out this way (as a state-funded organization) that not only become self-sufficient but actually give money back to the state.”

To appease legislators upset over the Cronos deal, MCNC provided $30 million to a state program to expand Internet access in rural areas. Moore says the organization now must be careful how it spends the rest of the profits from Cronos, especially during the current economic slowdown.

“We have to make financially sound decisions and protect our resources,” he says. “That’s an area where I think I can help.”

Will MCNC be split? For part one of this series, click here: