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A HISTORY OF COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS: 1968 -1988

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Kim Maxwell

Kim Maxwell had just taken his first full–time job when he was asked if he wanted to join six others and start a new company to be named Vadic Inc. Maxwell, 29 years old, had little practical experience to rely on, having been a student at Stanford for ten years where he studied philosophy for eight years before switching to mathematics for the last two years. In the founders’ struggle to choose a strategy, they decided on modems for Maxwell knew something about them. For six months the founders took no salaries, before finally raising $185,000 by summer’s end.

Their first strategy was to build OEM modems. By 1971, after finally learning about Carterfone, they decided building Bell 103 modems a better choice than one-off OEM modems. That led them to build the MVS-1 rackmount central site system. In 1972, Maxwell, now named President, hired an engineering manager who in turn introduced John Bingham (see interview of John Bingham) to the company. Bingham was a key hire who, with Maxwell and others, innovated the first full-duplex 1200 bps modem -- the Vadic VA3400. By 1974, a rash of mistakes led the Board to demote Maxwell to the engineering and marketing ranks. There he excelled, closing key customers, like Instruments et al, and perfecting the 3400. However, their technological advantage seemed lost when AT&T introduced the backward compatible Bell 212 1200 bps modem in 1976. Maxwell and Bingham rose to the occasion, however, and developed the wildly successful “triple modem". Internal strife between the Board and management resulted in the sale to Racal Electronics in 1978 for $20M, in a year when Vadic’s sales grew to $10M.

In early 1979, Maxwell and Ken Krechmer, who had been Director of Sales since 1973 when he joined the company (See Interview of Ken Krechmer), met and developed a successful product strategy as well as an energizing innovation to create stocking representatives, both actions that propelled company sales to $90M by 1984.

In 1984, Maxwell was once again promoted to President. This time the exercise lasted just four years until early 1988. In large measure, the cause was the costly failure to partner with Texas Instruments to reduce the triple modem to a chip. In Maxwell’s words: “We lost the technology edge we've never recovered.” Furthermore, key personnel turnover, Krechmer (1979) and Bingham (1984) robbed Vadic of talent.

Keywords: Vadic, VA3400, Bell 212, Triple modem, dial-up modem, AT&T, UDS

Kim Maxwell Interviewed by James Pelkey 7/19/88