William C. Norris

Born on a Nebraska farm, William C. Norris attended the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1932 with a degree in electrical engineering. In 1957, he founded Control Data Corporation and today serves as chairman and chief executive officer of that $3 billion company.

Norris began his career as a sales engineer for Westinghouse Electric. Serving in the Navy during World War II, he became interested in electronics through work on a project which helped to break the German code. After the war he co-founded Engineering Research Associates, Inc., in St. Paul, Minnesota. ERA made contributions to the development of digital computer technology, and later merged with Sperry Rand Corporation. Norris headed the Univac Division of Sperry Rand before leaving to found Control Data.

He financed his new company by selling 615,000 shares for one dollar each. According to a recent article in Time, those original shares are now work $324 apiece.

Today, Control Data is actually two operations: the original scientific computer business, greatly expanded and diversified, and Commercial Credit, a financial and insurance services company.

As head of CDC, Norris has led the movement among American corporations to locate plants in rundown urban areas. He believes that business must work with government and technology to solve society’s problems. This has led to ventures in seven depressed areas under the aegis of City Venture Corporation. Norris also established Rural Venture, to upgrade poverty-stricken rural areas by bringing in industry.

Although he heads a large corporation, Norris encourages small business, chiefly through providing business and technology centers for budding entrepreneurs. These centers offer space and utilities to fledgling business owners, and also advice on management of new ventures. In addition, Control Data Corporation operates Control Data Institute, a group of 36 centers that train computer programmers and technicians.