Repeating Pattern of Excellence
By Steve Kovarik, Field Applications Engineer
At some point in my tenure at MultiTech I started to become aware of the legacy unfolding in front of me.
In 1968 there was a landmark court decision called the Carterfone decision that for the first time allowed electronic devices to be acoustically connected to the telephone line. Years later this court decision is recognized as allowing innovation for what would become the telephone answer machine, fax and modem industries.
It was 1970, the future founder and President of MultiTech Systems “Raghu Sharma” at that time was an immigrant from India enrolled at the University of Minnesota.
As an undergraduate at the U of M Raghu designed and built one of the first acoustic couplers and gifted it to one of his professors Otto Schmitt (inventor of the famous Schmitt trigger). It was Raghu’s design of this acoustic coupler and immediate demand that is credited with starting Multi-Tech Systems in 1970. At that time, competition was the incumbent AT&T who was considered a monopoly in the US, and would eventually be forced through deregulation to break-up into smaller Regional Bell Operating Companies.
Raghu continued on to obtain his doctorate in Electrical Engineering.
It was June of 1984 when I walked through the door of a place called Multi-Tech Systems,
I was a recent graduate still living with my parents driving my first car… a metallic bronze 1972 Chevelle SS.
My lab partner from school informed me that MultiTech was hiring …so I applied and was hired in the Production Department as an Electronic Test Technician for $5.25 an hour.
Matt Sharma, Raghu’s son is born.
MultiTech was a data communication manufacturer of modem hardware. We did learn about modems in school, mostly that modem was an acronym for modulator/demodulator and converted digital-to-analog. I was fascinated to understand MultiTech thrived building and selling this computer peripheral. Throughout the 70’s and early 80’s MultiTech modems were primarily used on mainframe computers.
Sometime in 1984 I recollect MultiTech released a 2400 baud Smartmodem that utilized AT Commands. The demand for this product was high, but as the “new hire” I worked on older legacy equipment which included manually controlled (Originate/Answer) acoustic couplers, DAA’s (data access arrangements), and power supply’s.
It wasn’t long after I had been working here that MultiTech was awarded ‘Modem of the year’ by PC magazine.
That changed everything.
Usually the fastest performing modem won these competitive tests.
I’ll take a moment to state that the MultiTech MT224E was not the fastest modem tested.
However it was its high performance on impaired phone lines that earned it the editor’s choice along with a solid company reputation for quality.
It was not long after that time that MultiTech achieved its 1st million dollars in sales in one Month.
It was a milestone “first” and we all celebrated.
As personal computers were just starting to take hold, everything was executed from a DOS prompt and there was this new Operating System gaining popularity called UNIX. This timeframe predated Windows and email, and it was vaguely the time I became the administrator for our BBS.
MultiTech’s Bulletin Board System used modems so users could dial-in connect and download the latest firmware for their MultiTech modem.
Another milestone in the early 1990’s was the 1 millionth modem MultiTech made. I remember we painted it gold and the President Raghu presented it to his old U of M professor Otto Schmitt, whom Raghu had given his first hand build acoustic coupler to decades earlier. Otto came to MultiTech and the whole company attended the presentation in the production area.
International modem sales grew.
Early on, MultiTech invested in modem homologation approvals for different countries.
This made MultiTech a global modem manufacturer.
There was always friendly competition between the Domestic and International Sales teams.
Our International sales grew and kept pace with domestic sales making us very successful.
Dial-up modems were expensive back then. They ranged roughly from $500 to over a $1000 each.
In the mid to late 90’s modem prices started dropping rapidly, they were becoming a commodity.
There was a new concept called LAN (Local Area Network) that used a relatively new protocol developed by the US military called TCP/IP and allowed users to share computer peripherals like printers.
Raghu continued the legacy by diversifying the product line. Aside from the many variety of analog modems, new products evolved incorporating TCP/IP that served new market segments. Like voice over IP, routers and digital modem banks, fax servers, and dial-up remote access servers.
For a while MultiTech manufactured Arcnet, Ethernet and Token Ring ‘Network Interface Cards’.
Arcnet and Token Ring technologies faded while Ethernet technology became widely adopted worldwide.
During my tenure I’ve had the privilege to work and experience the company from the viewpoint of several different departments including Production, Repairs, Engineering, Sales, and Marketing.
I’ve always enjoyed learning how our products work and helping our customers do the same.
We have grown, and have had major expansions at least four times in my tenure.
Building expansions, building a new building, then expanding the new building.
We used to joke around a lot and play practical jokes on each other for fun. Like wiring a technicians test bench to “short out” when turned on in the morning. Or gluing a Colleagues galoshes to the floor.
Finding your top desk drawer lined with plastic with live goldfish swimming in it [on your Birthday]
Through all this I traveled around to many a town and hit every major city in North America.
In our seminar one of the sales guys was boasting that Raghu had invented the acoustic coupler.
At a large tradeshow in Las Vegas MultiTech employees would meet for dinner including Raghu the President.
I took the opportunity to ask Raghu “Raghu, did you invent the acoustic coupler?”
He responded “No, I built a better one”
Then it dawned on me, he did the same when we won PC Magazine modem of the year. He built a better one.
Time Division Multiplexers, Raghu designed a Statistical Time Division Multiplexer. He built a better one.
There was this repeating pattern of excellence. MultiTech was earning a reputation, and it was good.
Pat Sharma continues the MultiTech legacy (after Raghu passed in 2007) transforming the company focus resulting in success and growth. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always the primrose path.
Multi-Tech has survived product commoditization, analog phone lines going extinct, economic downturns, and other threatening challenges over the decades which is just as important as our success.
I am thankful and feel it is important that small and medium size private businesses can continue to survive and thrive and am proud to work for a private manufacturer.
Commonly our newer employees come back from trade shows and talk about attendees walking up and asking “aren’t you that great modem company from the 80’s & 90’s”. I just smile.
Any company is about the people that make it up.
I feel that I am truly blessed to be employed by MultiTech for the last 36 years.