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Executive in the Spotlight: President sees a thunderhead forming

Sunday, February 20, 2000

By Ken Zapinski, Associate Editor/Business

Dave Walker, the new president of Pittsburgh software company Storm LLC, seems to forget where his hat hangs these days.

  Dave Walker, new president of the software company Storm LLC. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette)

Seems the anti-Microsoft rhetoric you pick up during 14 years at Sun Microsystems just doesn't disappear overnight.

"They are a monopoly, and, because they dominate the market, they have stifled innovation," Walker said.

Memo to Dave: Bill Gates isn't the enemy anymore; your new company's only two products work hand in hand with Microsoft's Windows NT to help Web servers and networks work faster and more efficiently.

But Walker has grander plans in mind. "The market potential of those products is significant," he said, "but not where we want to be."

He's got big ideas about how Storm can help run the infrastructure that runs the Internet, even if he's not ready to talk about them yet.

Walker knows something about big ideas that turn out differently than planned. Just two months ago, the 52-year-old executive was an M.B.A. student at Auburn University boning up on his financial acumen with dreams of starting his own company.

Dave Walker

Age: 52

Title: President, Storm LLC

Education: Bachelor's degree in math/computer science, State University of New York at Albany, 1972; completing MBA at Auburn University and master's degree in software engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Career Path: U.S. Army, 1967-70; manager of software development, Fairchild Faultfinders and Systomation Inc., 1972-76; district sales manager, Data General Corp., 1976-1983; district sales manager, Masscomp, 1983-1985; regional sales director, Sun Microsystems, 1985-89; eastern area vice president, 1989-93; vice president of worldwide field operations for Sunsoft, Sun's software division, 1993-98.


Then Sam Leinhardt, Storm's chairman and chief executive officer, called. Storm's vice president of sales hadn't worked out and the fledgling company needed some sales help.

Walker, who had been worldwide vice president of software sales for Sun, had been on Storm's advisory board for a year. He came to Pittsburgh in January thinking he'd help out during a short-term crisis. Now he's president of the company.

He said hooking up with Storm will save him two years of ramping up his own company, and, in the tech business these days, it's a time-to-market game. The quicker you can get in, the more money you can make.

Taking the No. 2 job at Storm, he said, will give him "a smaller piece of a bigger play."

Even before his career began, Walker saw the importance of being flexible.

His first foray into college life was, ahem, less than stellar. Three years in the Army as an interpreter in Vietnam is enough to change anybody's perspective. When he returned stateside, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in math/computer science from the State University of New York at Albany.

After a series of software and sales jobs, he landed at Sun Microsystems in 1985. He was Sun's guy to start selling in upstate New York and Western Pennsylvania, and he built an organization of 100 people with $100 million in annual sales.

He climbed the ladder at Sun, spending his last five years commuting from his home in Atlanta to Sun's Silicon Valley headquarters every week.

He realized he could either stay at Sun and play the political games necessary to snag a seat as head of one of its divisions. "or get the right background to do my own company."

That's how he ended up at Auburn, where he graduates next month, as well as studying for a master's degree in software engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he should earn his degree this fall.

Walker looks at his operational experience with Leinhardt's connections and strategic vision, and he sees big things in store for Storm. Not that the company hasn't been growing since its founding in 1998. It just acquired a software firm in India and next month, the company's 40 Pittsburgh employees should be moving from Downtown to new headquarters in the Strip District.

"It's a pivotal time in the growth of the company," Leinhardt said, "and Dave's expertise in sales and marketing will complement what is already a very technically strong company."

Walker gleams when he impishly teases what's on Storm's horizon. "As one of the investors said, we're moving up the risk-reward curve."

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