What do you think of when you hear the word? Maybe you think of your five-year class reunion or maybe a family gathering outside the city you call home. Most likely, a reunion is a time to relive happy memories and moments with old friends and loved ones. However, at the end of every reunion, it’s easy to ask yourself, “am I ever going to see them again?”
The team at CompuServe just celebrated its 50th reunion. If you’re anything like me, you probably didn’t even realize organizations had reunions. Would you be more shocked to hear they had over 400 former employees in attendance?
The first question that came to my mind when Rich Baker, former Director of Corporate Communications at CompuServe told me about the reunion was “Why?” After having the opportunity to interview Rich, one reason stood resolutely in my mind.
The CompuServe team made history, and making history is meant to be celebrated.
Rich Baker was hired in 1976 to promote the data processing and network communications businesses and, later, to deal with the ongoing breakthroughs CompuServe was forging in personal computing and how those were to be communicated both internally and externally. What was made abundantly clear was that a company shaping the future of the internet as we know it needed someone who could help the world understand what was happening and how to utilize it.
“We had to hire soon enough to make a difference,” Former Chairman and CEO of Compuserve Jeffrey Wilkins said, “When Rich and I got together, and I’m not entirely sure when I realized how important it was to have great communications or someone on the team who was a great communicator, it was kind of a breakthrough. He was tremendously skilled, but he was also our consigliere. He was always someone I could go to and ask about a situation or a challenge and get an insightful answer that I knew was well thought out.”
Having an individual like Baker on the team was crucial to the growth of CompuServe. Wilkins noted how important every piece of communication was as a publicly-traded company, “Everything you say you’re taking some risk. Rich was always sensible to these situations.”
Being an Alumni of Ohio University, he credits his education for the skills he was able to learn in his career. “Everything I learned at OU, I used all of it for my entire career.” Laughing, he mentioned that he barely scraped by in Math-related subjects and knew that English and Psychology were areas that he was gifted in from a young age.
Upon graduation, Baker began working in communications for the Ohio Department of Public Welfare, then the Franklin County Mental Health Board. Dealing in highly regulated areas of communications was nothing new, but upon taking his position at CompuServe he noted, “You have to understand that this was a pre-Bill Gates and Steve Jobs time. They were around, but not doing the things we were doing at that time. These were uncharted waters we had to navigate.”
Entering into this new age of the internet, digital capabilities, and more importantly, data collection, Baker ended the interview by saying, “Where tremendous new benefits arrive from digital, so come the negatives. It was our obligation to begin sorting through these challenges as members of society. We had to ask ourselves questions like, ‘Who owns information? Who is responsible for it, and where does liability start and end?’’”
These questions the core leadership of CompuServe was asking themselves were groundbreaking and paramount to the future of the internet as we know it. Helping to navigate these uncharted waters, we now introduce our third interviewee from the CompuServe dynasty: Kent Stuckey.
In our next article in the Columbus Leadership Series, we explore the journey of how this small, mid-western company grew to be one of the largest, and most revolutionary tech companies in the world.