Coleman, Kenneth L.
Kenneth L. Coleman
Information technology executive
Despite working in an industry notorious for being dominated by white executives, Ken Coleman has held some of the most senior positions in Silicon Valley. Before his retirement in 2001 Coleman was Executive Vice President of Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), a $2.3 billion goliath of the computing industry. Named as one of the top 25 blacks in technology by Black Enterprise in 2001, after leaving SGI, Coleman was expected to retire to his retreat on the island of Maui and perhaps join the boards of one or two corporations. Instead Coleman made a surprising move—at the age of 61, he founded a software startup company called ITM to provide company CIOs (Chief Information Officers) with software to help them run their businesses. The step down from major corporation to startup was hard enough, but as Black Enterprise explained, what made Coleman's achievement with ITM so remarkable was that it was "a rare tech startup launched by an African American with significant investment, counsel, and management expertise from other blacks in the industry."
Kenneth L. Coleman was born on December 1, 1942, in Centralia, Illinois. He attended the University of Ohio and graduated with a bachelor's degree in industrial management in 1965 before beginning an MBA, which he completed in 1972. His studies were interrupted by military service: Coleman served as a United States Air Force Captain between 1968 and 1972, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. He married Caretha Coleman and they have five children: Kennetha, Karen, Kimberly, Kristen, and Kenneth.
Coleman began working in the technology sector when he joined Hewlett Packard as a personnel manager in 1972. He worked for the company for 10 years, during which time he worked as a corporate staffing manager and as Northern European personnel manager. One of his major achievements at Hewlett Packard was to have played an important part in the development of the personal computer business. It was during Coleman's tenure at the company that HP became a major player in the emerging PC market. Coleman moved from Hewlett Packard to Activision, a software startup that was one of the success stories of the early PC gaming market. He was vice president for human resources and later vice president for product development at Activision. Coleman joined Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) in 1987 and eventually became one of its highest-ranking executives. An article in Black Enterprise points out that in his 14 years at the company he was running "global sales, services, and marketing for the $2.3 billion computer systems giant and managing more than 4,000 employees in 37 countries."
Coleman's success in an industry that has been traditionally hard to break into for African Americans has been outstanding. Among IT executives he ranks as one of the most successful across the sector and one of the most successful black executives of the 1980s and 1990s. A comment he made to Black Enterprise in 2001 hints that the key to his success is to have continually re-educated himself: "Your past has less to do with your future success than your knowledge to deal with and manage change. It's more about what you know now than what you did 20 years ago." In an industry as fast moving and unforgiving as technology, Coleman has demonstrated his adaptability more than once. He entered the industry with an interest in computers, though he does not consider himself a "techie," but has since been influential in several expanding technical markets. Where his real skill seems to lie, however, is in assessing the needs of businesses and providing them with products and support to meet those needs. At SGI he developed consulting and customer support services, presiding over a growth in sales of more than $250 million.
Even as he approached retirement Coleman was thinking of new products and new business opportunities. Though widely expected to retire to his home in Maui, Coleman began instead to think about setting up a new company. Along with several other former SGI executives Coleman became a founder of ITM, a company specializing in management information software designed specifically for IT managers. ITM was founded in the fall of 2002. In the aftermath of the dotcom collapse it was not easy to raise money, or to convince cash-strapped technology companies that they needed a new software tool. But by 2004 Coleman and his board had raised $12.8 million in venture capital. Coleman had also made an effort to attract African-American investors, allowing them to invest as little as $50,000, an unusually low sum for a startup tech company. By 2005 the company had attracted high-profile customers such as Intuit, SGI, and Lifescan, a division of Johnson and Johnson.
Coleman has given several interviews in which he offers advice to black Americans trying to break into the IT industry and in corporate America in general. Part of his secret is his energy and enthusiasm for new challenges, as well as his commitment to delivering on promises. But there is one piece of advice that sums up Coleman's successful approach. He told Black Enterprise in 2000: "We must be willing to take risks."
At a Glance …
Born Kenneth L. Coleman on December 1, 1942, 'in Centralia, Illinois; married Caretha; children: Kennetha, Karen, Kimberly, Kristen, Kenneth. Education: Ohio State University, BS, industrial management, 1965, MBA 1972. Military Service: United States Air Force, Captain 1968–72.
Career: Hewlett-Packard Corporation, corporate staffing manager, personnel division, then Northern European personnel manager, 1972–82; Activision Inc, vice president, human resources, vice president, product development, 1982–87; Silicon Graphics Computer Systems, senior vice president of global services and senior vice president of administration and business development, 1987–01; ITM Software, co-founder, chairman, and CEO, 2002–.
Memberships: State of California M(athematics) E(ngineering) S(cience) A(chievement) (MESA), board member 1984–85; board member, Bay Area Black United Fund 1984–85; member, University of Santa Clara Industry Advisory Committee, 1984–85; member, Ohio State Business Advisory Board 1984–85; member and past president, Peninsula Association of Black Personnel Administrators, 1975–; industry advisor, Bay Area Black MBA Association; board member, San Francisco Exploratorium, Ohio State University College of Business Dean's Advisory Council; board member, Children's Health Council; board member, The Community Foundation of Santa Clara County; board member, University of California, San Francisco.
Awards: Award for Excellence in Community Service, San Jose CA, 1981; "Top 50 Blacks in Corporate America," Black Enterprise, 2000; Marketing Opportunities in Business and Entertainment award, 2001; Ohio State University Distinguished Service Award; National Alliance of Black School Educators Living Legend Award; American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley Exemplary Leader Award; One Hundred Black Men of Silicon Valley Lifetime Achievement Award; Silicon Valley Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.
Addresses: Office—ITM Software, 161 East Evelyn Ave, Mountain View, CA 94041.
Black Enterprise, February 2000; March 2001; November 2004.
ITM Software, www.itm-software.com (February 7, 2006).
"Kenneth L. Coleman," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (February 7, 2006).
"Kenneth L. Coleman," ITM Software Team, www.itm-software.com/html/mgmntKen.shtml (February 7, 2006).
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