CEO of Soft Draw Investments; former Chairman and CEO at Cabletron Systems, Inc.; Former Governor of the State of New Hampshire
If there is one thing that distinguishes the true entrepreneur, it is the ability to succeed in the face of adversity.
Successful entrepreneurs struggle with limited resources, endure the treacherous start-up years, and eventually flourish. The founders of Cabletron Systems, Inc., a computer connectivity corporation in Rochester, New Hampshire, exemplify the triumphant spirit of the entrepreneur.
Theirs is a textbook example of a start-up business. The company began in 1983 when S. Robert Levine, then an independent electronics contractor, was approached by a customer who requested lengths of cable that were shorter than what conventional suppliers were willing to furnish. Craig R. Benson B’77, a business contact of Levine’s, suggested that he buy a large order of cable, cut it, and fill the customer’s order. Levine and Benson would sell the remaining lengths of cable. The two hauled all of the cable into Levine’s Ashland, Massachusetts garage and, during their lunch hours, cut it into shorter lengths. The first year, they made a modest $100,000 doing exactly what they had done that first day in the garage.
From there, the partners continued to provide connectivity cable to customers for what is now known as networking. They also began installing the networks and providing the hardware needed to control them. In 1991, Benson and Levine shared the honor of being named Inc. magazine’s “Entrepreneurs of the Year.” By January 1992, Cabletron’s growth and success had accelerated to the point that its corporate headquarters building was selected by President George Bush as one of the key stops on his New Hampshire primary campaign. “Welcome to Cabletron, Mr. President,” read the huge sign that greeted him as he entered Rochester.
Their distinct personalities and skills make them unlikely, but complementary, partners. The industry press refers to them as “the odd couple.” S. Robert Levine, president and chief executive officer of Cabletron and the student voted “least likely to succeed” in his high school class, is a powerhouse of energy and dedication. His maverick tactics add the character to Cabletron that distinguishes the company from its competition. Craig R. Benson, chairman and chief operating officer, is married and has two children. With a personality quite opposite from that of his partner, Benson is the financial driving force. His attention to cost details and professional management of the company’s rapid growth have been essential to Cabletron’s rise in the industry.
Both entrepreneurs have fought the bureaucracy that can accompany corporate growth, and focus on creating an environment that will position their employees to perform and respond to the needs of customers. Says Levine, “I hire dedicated people, brighter than me, and give them the chance to succeed.” Today, Levine and Benson’s Cabletron, once a garage start-up, proves that vision and dedication hold the keys to business success.