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The Making of Other World Computing

The Making of Other World Computing

by , 12:05 PM EST, January 25th, 2008

When Larry O'Connor was a teenager, he was frustrated with high prices for Apple II memory, seemingly held artificially high. So he found a source for DRAM memory chips and started building his own Apple II memory cards for sale at a third of what others were charging. Now, twenty some years later, he's running Other World Computing, still selling memory at great prices, and still taking great care of his customers.

At Macworld, TMO sat down and chatted with Lawrence R. O'Connor, the CEO of Other World Computing and the President of Newer Technology. Larry doesn't really focus on the title, however, and for those who looked carefully, his modest Macworld badge simply said "OWC Larry."

Larry O'Connor, photo courtesy of John Nemerovski 2008

Ever since Other World Computing was founded in the 1990s, Mr. O'Connor's vision has been to sell the products he uses, create a stable, profitable, fun place to work for his employees, and take great care of his customers.

It shows. Today, Other World Computing has an annual revenue of more than US$54 million and a 30 percent growth in revenue and volume in 2007. Customers are amazingly happy, and the business is doing well. So well, in fact, that Mr. O'Connor has been approached about selling his company to others. Of course, that typically turns into a not so satisfying experience for the unlucky customers who got on board with a company they trusted, and then feel betrayed. Mr. O'Connor has refused, preferring instead to take care of his employees and customers -- and follow that vision steadfastly.

"When people approach me about acquiring my company, I just shrug and tell them, hey, we have great products," Mr. O'Connor told TMO. "And that is what is for sale."

The Newer Technology Connection

One of the building blocks of OWC is Newer Technology. That company, formerly based in Wichita, was well-known for processor and memory upgrades in the 1990s. However, even as the company got into trouble, the original founder worked hard to take care of his customers before the company went under. In 2001, Mr. O'Connor bought Newer Technology for its name recognition and some core technologies. Today, it is the research arm of OWC. Products are designed at their joint facility in Woodstock, Illinois, fabricated by subcontractors, but ultimately assembled and packaged in Woodstock.

Mr. O'Connor wears two hats; he's the CEO of OWC and the president of Newer Technology. However, the man who's running NewerTech for now is Grant Dahlke, their Marketing Manager. Mr. Dahlke is a crisp looking, tall fellow with short hair, rimless eyeglasses and a sparkle in his eyes. TMO spent some time with him too, and as we spoke, the reasons for the success of the two companies became clear. The passion for the customer experience is in both men's DNA.

Mr. Dahlke spoke about the four W's to answer when working with customers. What is it? What's it for? What does it do? What's important about it and why should I buy it? To that end, one of the hallmarks of NewerTech products is the packaging. When you pick up one of their boxes, say a disk drive, the features and benefits leap off the box in a very clear way with colorful, informative type. There are no tricks, and nothing is hidden. On top of that, they have a fanatical attention to detail. For example, every hard disk interface has its corresponding cable in the box. High quality cables. The customer also gets a manual, a customer experience that most companies overlook for the sake of saving a few cents.

Looking to the Future

One of the projects Mr. Dahlke spoke about proudly is the new building they've built in Woodstock. It will be LEED Gold certified, perhaps platinum, and took two and a half years to build. They'll be moving in next month. This standard for environmentally friendly, Green buildings, is seldom achieved because they're at least an order of magnitude more expensive to build. OWC's new building will have, for example, roof sun collectors and optic fiber to bring in outside light, advanced geo-thermal HVAC, and a recyclable water system. Few employers go to this length to create a both efficient and employee friendly building.

An interesting feature of the OWC booth at Macworld was the colored shirts. Management wore red, customer service wore yellow, and technical support wore blue. That's never been seen at Macworld, and added a tenor of Star Trek fun. At least, until this reporter mentioned that red shirts always die first. Mr. O'Connor frowned, but it didn't take long for the response: "Ah, depends on which Star Trek series we're talking about!"

OWC Booth at Macworld

Mr. O'Connor's success, however, hasn't gone to his head. He drives a modest car and lives in a modest house with his wife and two children -- with a third on the way. Instead, he folds the profits back into the company, making sure that they always have the money they need to design new products, create a stable work place, and go the extra mile to make their customers very, very pleased. [And attend Macworld without fail.] One need only go to their Website, make a purchase, and raise an eyebrow as one feels the security and professionalism of the purchase process.

TMO asked Mr. O'Connor where he thinks he'll be in ten years. By the time the conversation got around to that, it was fairly clear that he wouldn't have sold out and be laying on the beach in St. Thomas.

"Ten years?" Mr. O'Connor asked. "Why, I expect to be right there in Woodstock doing what I'm doing now. Paying fanatical attention to my products and customers, educating customers, and helping them get the most from their computer. We want our customers to have the very best expectation of us."

For the next ten years, that's exactly where his customers will want him to be.

[Full Disclosure: OWC has been an advertiser of TMO for quite some time. This was only made apparent to the author after the article was conceived and published, and in no way influenced the article in any way.]

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