Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

CDC : No. 2 - Frank Mullaney?

Oral Interview with Arthur Norberg, Charles Babbage Institute, June, 1986

Frank Mullaney also contributed an oral interview to CBI in 1986, much of which concentrated on his early career, but towards the end moved to his time with Bill Norris and ERA and later the UNIVAC division of Sperry Rand and what appears to have been a somewhat toxic management environment which eventually led to he, Norris and others breaking away to form the new Control Data Corporation.

Unfortunately, the interview, conducted over two days, did not elaborate on Mullaney’s later time with CDC and thus any involvement with the Heymanson agency. He left CDC in 1966 for a smaller, but unknown, company.

The interview also reveals that things on a financial basis with the new corporation were not all "Sweetness and Light" until Seymour Cray eventually came up with circuitry which became the basis of the 1604

Although not touched on in either interview, Mullaney resigned in January, 1965, his departure following a month later by Robert Kisch, another co-founder. CDC had been going through a rough patch, posting a quarterly loss (from what I can see, the first since perhaps the very earliest days)  - both quoted “personal reasons”, but industry rumours suggested that were conflicts over the direction in CDC was heading - Mullaney and Ktsch saw it remaining in a narrow computer manufacturing role while Bill Norris was diversifying into several different areas. Coincidentally, both men were 43 years of age when they resigned

Page 75

MULLANEY: It seems to me at that time what we read was is that Norris' job was being cut way back, and that he was being sent back to the boonies. As I recall at that time, he also lost the marketing end of it, which up to that time he had been in charge of. So we looked at that as being a backwards step and it was just window dressing to say that this was emphasizing the military.

NORBERG: What were the consequences of the action beside Norris being pushed aside or demoted or whatever?

MULLANEY: The formation of Control Data.

Page 77

NORBERG: In the formation in the early years of Control Data then, what did you people feel you had learned from the UNIVAC experience that you either made sure you emphasized or made sure you didn't let happen in the new firm?

MULLANEY: Well, we felt we had learned how to build equipment that worked. I guess that was the main thing, and when we started Control Data, we really didn't plan to build a computer and sell it as such. We felt we had learned to work with some of the military customers, we were going to try to get some of that business, but we didn't have any contracts. The main thing was we wanted to get the hell away from Sperry. And we didn't really have a very clear idea of what we were going to do, contrary to what some people thought, including Sperry-Rand.


Pages 79-84

NORBERG: If Ryden and Bryon Smith are the first, how did you become involved with that group?

MULLANEY: They asked me to have dinner with them one night at the Minneapolis Athletic Club. And they told me that they were thinking about how nice it would be to start a company and get it publicly financed. Ryden said he knew where he could get $200,000 in one chunk, and that sounded like big money to us then, and that we could raise money from other sources and start a company and was I interested.

"They did not at that time say that Bill Norris was interested, so I don't know whether Norris had or had not been approached at that time. Since I knew this would get back to Norris, and I was working for him at the time, I told Norris after this meeting that I had been approached, but that I had told them that I wasn't interested at this time and to go ahead and to plan this without me.

"And he was very noncommittal as he can be, and he says, "Okay, thanks for telling me about that." He did not say to me either that he had been in touch with them or that he was or was not interested. Then that sat for some months, several or a couple or I forget what, not too many months, and Norris called me one day.

“By this time I was reporting to Bob MacDonald, I think. Norris had reorganized the division, and he said to me, "I'd like to have lunch with you at the Criterion." So we went down to the Criterion and he said that he had given it a try, he had given it a fair try, and boy, he was ready to hang it up, and “was I interested in the thing I had mentioned a couple of months ago”. So I said yes, I was interested. And we talked about it.

NORBERG: You were interested because Norris now was interested, or you had thought it over in the mean time?

MULLANEY: Probably a combination. I would guess that maybe... I guess maybe the unhappiness had continued and also I felt that maybe there was enough, enough steam had built up to make this a feasible thing to do. So certainly Norris' being interested had a lot to do with my interest.

NORBERG: Did Norris tell you about anyone else who was going to be interested?

MULLANEY: I don't recall. I don't think so, but I'm not sure of that.

NORBERG: Because Norris... When did you resign from UNIVAC?

MULLANEY: I just happened to have brought a scrapbook that my wife kept that will help some of those things.  July 26, 1957.

NORBERG: All right, as I recall, that's the same date that Norris resigned?

MULLANEY: Right. That's the same announcement.

NORBERG: All right. Fine. But people like Seymour didn't leave until September?

MULLANEY: Yes, that's correct.

NORBERG: So does that suggest that Seymour and several others like Thornton were not involved in the original discussion?

MULLANEY: Probably not involved in the original discussion, although I'm sure when any word got around... So many people came to me at that time expressing interest, people that we weren't prepared to feed, we really had a hell of a time fending people off. Contrary to what Sperry thought in their law suit that we were going out soliciting people, we were actually fighting people off. I immediately started, as soon as I resigned, a file of applications and when somebody would say they were interested, I'd say well, okay, we don't have anything to do, but let me get you on record and then we'll keep it on file. So we had a whole cabinet full shortly...

NORBERG: Was there a certain group that you thought would be a necessary nucleus for this new company?

MULLANEY: Oh yes. Oh yes.

NORBERG: Can you tell about those?

MULLANEY: I might have a different list from what somebody else might have. The people I thought we needed were Seymour, Zimmer, Kisch, Thornton, Bob Perkins. There were other people I was happy to have, but I didn't think were that essential.


NORBERG: Do you think these people were actively recruited?

MULLANEY: No. I think it was... I think it was spontaneous combustion, really. The interest, when people found out that this was being planned... You have, you just have no idea that people were so... For the most part, the idea of getting into a brand new company appealed to them very, very much and there was no recruiting. In fact, after this resignation, they asked me to stay. Thornton Fry asked me to stay around a couple of weeks, and MacDonald wanted a report on something that they were thinking of going into and so forth. And Fry said, "Will you tell me that there won't be any recruiting while you're around here?" I said, "No, there won't be any recruiting," and people kept stopping me in the hall!

NORBERG: Well, let's go back to 1957, the middle of 1957. What is it you saw as the prospects in the industry that were not being fulfilled by either UNIVAC or the industry at large at the time, that you people thought you could fulfil?

MULLANEY: We felt I think that our hands were being tied. We felt that we were being saddled to a management that didn't understand the business. We didn't like the edicts from on high that didn't seem to have, in our view, much relationship to anything sensible. We didn't like being part of a big company. That was the main thing. And of course it got ironic later as things grew, but the main thing was we just didn't like being part of a big company and a lot of the things that went with that. I don't think we really saw ourselves as doing anything fantastic. I think we saw ourselves as doing what we liked to do and had done successfully building special equipment and satisfying some customers with it.

NORBERG: I see, rather than trying to approach a broader market.

MULLANEY: That's right.

NORBERG: When did that all change or did it just sort of creep up on you rather than change?

MULLANEY: It changed because we couldn't get any jobs. The concepts changed. In 1958, early '58, we were in a pretty deep recession as I recall and there weren't a lot of government contracts being let. We had some people working. We had enough money to keep it going at a low level. Really, the idea came from Seymour. Seymour was tinkering in the lab. We set up a little lab. We came in at night and we put together the benches because they were cheaper that way and so forth. We didn't even have a quarter inch drill -- Perkins brought his drill in so we could get these things put together and so forth. By that time, Seymour was with the company and he was working on some new transistor circuitry. The idea being anything we were going to build was going to be digital, we'd need computer circuitry and he might as well go ahead and design some standard circuits. Well, in addition to doing this, he designed a very good circuit that used some very ordinary transistors that we could get cheap. At the same time, he was working on the logic of a new machine.

NORBERG: Just for the hell of it?


MULLANEY: Just because that's what Seymour does, you know. He had all the Boolean equations and so he came to us and said, "Look, we don't have any jobs anyway, why don't we build a computer?" And I believe maybe he had even built a prototype of a little machine, a little one-character wide machine called Little Character at that time, built out of this circuitry to show the feasibility of the circuitry. So we agreed that that was a good thing to do, that this might sell. Shortly after that I think we got the Bureau of Ships interested and I don't know at what time, but we did get a contract for this machine eventually. But before that time, we had cut salaries and that kind of thing to conserve the cash.

NORBERG: And this machine was the first 1604 that was constructed?

MULLANEY: Yes, right.

NORBERG: Do you remember how many 1604s were manufactured?

MULLANEY: No, I don't. Quite a number of them.

NORBERG: I think I'm going to stop it right there, Frank, because... (Pause)

MULLANEY: Somehow it wasn't... You know, as I look back on it, that management [Sperry-Rand] couldn't do anything that we liked and I'm not sure why.

NORBERG: Even building a new plant didn't provide the kind of encouragement?


NORBERG: That is strange.

MULLANEY: All my projects were in the old plants and the plants around there so that new plant didn't mean nything to me. But it should have been sort of an encouragement to us, but I don't recall that it was.

NORBERG: Do you remember the other companies that were founded by people who left? Like Ramsey Engineering, and those firms. Did that somehow encourage the possibility...?


Ed. For the record, Control Data Corporation was incorporated in Minnesota, July 28, 1957, (three days after Norris resigned from Sperry Rand-Univac) by Fremont Fletcher, Abbot L. Fletcher, and D.P. Wassenberg with 600,000 shares of stock sold at $1 per share. The first headquarters were located in the McGill Building, 501 Park Avenue, in downtown Minneapolis. William C. Norris was announced as the president of the company on August 14, 1957. Former Sperry Rand Univac engineers who joined CDC in September 1957: Robert Perkins, William R. Keye, Howard Shekels, Robert Kitsch and Seymour Cray.

Early CDC Board of Directors members included president William C. Norris, Arnold Ryden (believed the Financial Controller and formerly a Management Consultant to Sperry Rand), Walter G. Andrews, Robert F. Leach, and Frank C. Mullaney, as well as other early executives: first director of marketing, Willis K. Drake; first public relations director, Allan J. Walsh; James G. Miles, director of engineering services; and Henry S. Forrest, director of government services engineering, Eastern Office (Washington D.C.) Manager.

Sperry Rand subsequently sued CDC - little is known of the case, but a CDC Historical Timeline suggests it was settled out of court in 1962, four years after it first went to court


Frank Mullaney and Bill Norris, 1957

Charles Babbage Institute. (Norris scrapbook)

See also CDC - Early Days

The position of the two “stars’ may have been carefully orchestrated in terms of body language - not sure of the respective physical sizes, but Mullaney in other photos is a good head taller than Norris and just about everyone else pictured. Also according to John O’Neil, a bloody nice bloke!

The pair with two representatives of the transport company pictured below on delivery of the first 1604.