Philip Donald Estridge (June 23, 1937 - August 2, 1985), known as Don Estridge, led development of the original IBM Personal Computer (PC), and thus is known as "father of the IBM PC". His decisions dramatically changed the computer industry, resulting in a vast increase in the number of personal computers sold and bought, thus creating an entire industry of hardware manufacturers of IBM PCs.
Estridge was born in Jacksonville, Florida. His father was a professional photographer. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1955, and from the University of Florida in 1959. He married Mary Ann Hellier in September, 1958. Three children would eventually be born from his marriage: Patricia Ann, Mary Evelyn and Sandra Marie.
He completed a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Florida, and worked at the Army, designing a radar system using computers, IBM and finally NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center until he moved to Boca Raton, Florida in 1969.
His efforts to develop the IBM PC began when he took control of the small Entry Level Systems division in 1980, with the goal of developing a low-cost personal computer to compete against increasingly popular offerings from the likes of Apple Computer, Commodore International, and other perceived IBM competitors. To create a cost-effective alternative to those companies products, Estridge realized that it would be necessary to rely on third-party hardware and software. This was a marked departure from previous IBM strategy, which centered around in-house vertical development of complicated mainframe systems and their requisite access terminals. Estridge also published the specifications of the IBM PC, allowing a booming third-party aftermarket hardware business to take advantage of the machine's expansion card slots.
The competitive cost and expandability options of the first model, IBM PC model 5150, as well as the cachet of being an IBM product, led to strong sales to both enterprise and home customers. Over the next several years, Estridge received a string of promotions, and by 1984 was IBM Vice President, Manufacturing. Steve Jobs even offered Estridge a multi-million dollar job as president of Apple Computers, which he turned down.
Estridge and wife Mary Ann were killed when the plane they were traveling on, Delta Air Lines Flight 191, crashed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on August 2, 1985. He was 48 years old. The Estridges were survived by their three daughters. At the time of his death, the IBM PC division had nearly 10,000 employees and had sold over a million PCs.
Estridge has been honored many times. In 1999 he was identified in CIO magazine as one of the people who "invented the enterprise". The Don Estridge High-Tech Middle School—formerly IBM Facility Building 051—in Boca Raton, Florida, is named after him, and on the occasion of its dedication was given by Don Estridge's family his own personal IBM 5150 computer.
The personal computer enjoys the ubiquity it does because of one man: Philip "Don" Estridge. An IBM employee since 1959, Estridge headed up the skunk works in Boca Raton, Fla., that in 1981 launched the IBM PC. Estridge made the decision—revolutionary for that time and place—that the machine would be made from off-the-shelf, easily obtainable parts and that the design specification would be made public. Estridge and his wife Mary Ann died in the Aug. 2, 1985, crash of a Delta Airlines L-1011, which was hit by wind shear while landing at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Estridge's longtime friend, neighbor and coworker Jan Winston, now retired but still consulting with IBM, talked to CIO about the colleague he still misses.
DON AND I LIVED NEXT DOOR to each other in Boca Raton. It was a sleepy town in those days, not sophisticated like it is today. Then, it was only old people and IBM employees. You could stand outside watching the kids play and have a departmental meeting. Our families were very close well before the PC project started; he and I had worked together on the Series 1 project, IBM's first minicomputer. Because we had different responsibilities, we were often in contention on that project, but there was no stress in our friendship.
Don was very human, with a wonderful sense of humor and a charming personality. He combined a manic drive with tremendous respect for his people, recognizing all that they were sacrificing during the PC project. When the PC took off, it was like a rocket ride, and he did a wonderful job of exerting executive leadership. And he was a technically competent visionary. Don had a very broad view of where computer business was going technically as well as the importance of computers to the economy and to society as a whole.
Would the world today surprise him? Its magnitude would. Our first sales projections estimated selling 250,000 units over three years. The executives wondered what we were smoking because the best-selling IBM computer had sold only 25,000 over three to five years. We always said to ourselves that the technol-ogy would grow by leaps and bounds because of applications like VisiCalc. We knew there was going to be e-mail too. But the broad acceptance of the computer, the way it embedded itself in our everyday lives and the explosion of the Internet, is an order of magnitude beyond what we were thinking about in the early '80s.
With IBM's recent announcement that it was saying sayonara (or the Chinese equivalent) to its PC business, it seems the right time, finally, to finish writing a column that has been brewing for a while - about the man who brought us the IBM PC to begin with - Philip "Don" Estridge.
While many of us remember the "Steves" - Jobs and Wozniak - with their original Apples as the pioneers of personal computing, most of us owe our careers to the ascent of that device known as the "IBM-compatible Personal Computer." And the IBM PC owes its existence to one Don Estridge.
What brought this to mind? Recently, we at The Tolly Group completed our relocation to Boca Raton, Fla. Our facility is not much more than a stone's throw from what used to be IBM's Boca Raton facility - where the PC was born in the early 1980s.
And, across the street from that site, now called T-Rex (IBM is long since gone), is Don Estridge High-Tech Middle School . I pass this site every day as I take my kids to school, and being a high-tech old-timer, I remembered the name.
Although I never met him, I remembered vaguely that he was an IBM vice president and that he was "associated" with the early days of the PC and, sadly, that he was killed in a plane crash in Dallas in 1985. A little informal research, though, left me in awe of what that man did.
He led the "skunk works" that gave us the IBM PC - a team of 14 people. No, that is not a typo. Fourteen. And, of course, because they were building from scratch, they started out with a revenue base of zero.
By the time he gave up the reins of the PC Division, known then as the Entry Level Systems division shortly before he died in 1985, the division had 10,000 employees and revenue of $4.5 billion.
Before the PC, the best-selling (albeit more expensive) IBM computer is said to have sold 25,000 units. Estridge's team estimated 250,000 units over three years. They were wrong. By 1985 almost 1 million units were sold.
And he and his team did all this inside IBM. I have the greatest respect for IBM, but anyone who worked for or with IBM in that era (I was a customer at that time) will appreciate how difficult his task was.
Where, heretofore, every IBM computer was built with IBM parts, Estridge chose off-the-shelf components to keep down costs. We couldn't imagine PCs today that had nothing but proprietary hardware components.
Most importantly, he made the decision to make the PC "open" - to provide sufficient information about its specifications to let other manufacturers build on what IBM had done - which, of course, resulted in the ubiquity that Apple, for all of its quality and innovation, has never had.
And, while IBM was the largest software company in the world, he opted there, too, for open, "third-party" software.
In a 1982 interview with PC Magazine, he is quoted as saying:
"We didn't think we could introduce a product that could out-BASIC Microsoft's BASIC. We could have to out-BASIC Microsoft and out-VisiCalc VisiCorp and out-Peachtree Peachtree - and you just can't do that."
And, according to one biography, in 1983 he turned down a multimilliondollar offer from Apple to become its president.
So as IBM goes full circle and exits the PC business, let's not forget the man that got the company there in the first place