CEO sees great things for Linux Networx
BLUFFDALE - Riding herd on his family's northeastern Nevada ranch, a young Bobby Ewald's curiosity often soared above the dust of cattle drives and beyond the high desert's hazy horizons.
"I've always had an inquisitive mind," he says. "I just want to know how it works, why things are the way they are."
Today, that need to know has driven Ewald not to a life in the saddle, but to the CEO's chair at Utah's Linux Networx, a leader in the supercomputer industry.
It's a long way from the nighttime programming sessions on the University of Nevada-Reno's IBM mainframe, where Ewald's fascination with computers was firmly planted. And after earning his master's degree in civil engineering at the University of Colorado, a two-year stretch in the Army deepened his technical bent: at West Point, Ewald taught computing to cadets and digital graphics to himself.
By 1972, Ewald was back in Boulder, a member of the CU computing center staff. A few years later, he landed at the Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory.
That is where he worked on one of the first Cray supercomputers, a fascination that led to his own 1984-96 stint at Cray. He was president and chief operating officer when he departed, taking a four-year appointment to the White House's Information Technology Advisory Committee.
Ewald, most recently president of Ceridian Corp.'s Human Resource Solutions subsidiary and CEO of Scale Eight Inc., took the helm of Linux Networx on June 8. The change came with the blessings of predecessor Bernard Daines, who will continue as the company's board chairman.
"Linux Networx . . . not only has evolved [as a successful business], but is itself driving the evolution of supercomputers," Ewald says. He praises the company's "clustering" approach to using numerous, linked processors to boost computing efficiency and power rather than more costly giant processors.
"I see [the company] as having tremendous potential. In front of [us] is the opportunity to take a rapidly growing company and move the business even further along."
As with most privately held companies, Linux Networx keeps the particulars of its success secret. However, Ewald acknowledges the business has grown 50 to 70 percent each of the past two years. The company also is expanding its plant to an adjacent building, and admits to "aggressively hiring" new research and development personnel to a staff already at 200 to 300 employees.
Clients include Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Boeing and Audi, to name a few - a foundation upon which Linux Networx board members see Ewald's high-performance computing knowledge and experience in building sales as a perfect match.
"Bo is a proven winner . . . and an ideal leader to help the Linux Networx team fully achieve the company's extraordinary potential," said board member Ed Glassmeyer, a founding general partner of Oak Investment Partners.
It was Oak Investment, along with Tudor Ventures, that recently invested $40 million in Linux Networx - the largest single investment in a Utah tech company for 2004, according to PricewaterhouseCooper.
Ewald says that his revenue-growing record - Cray quadrupled to a $900 million company during his tenure - has raised expectations at Linux Networx. Taking the company public is a likely move.
But for now, the new CEO only speaks generally of expanding Linux Networx's business at home and abroad, and building infrastructure for both product development and customer service.
"Our objective is to build a sustainable, long-term business, both at the top line [revenues] and profitability," Ewald says. "If we do that, could this be a public company? Certainly. The opportunity in front of us is huge."