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Membership: Member Interviews

Mary Holmes

(Interview continued from e-mail newsletter.)

Q. How did you get so involved with this, and with civic entrepreneurship in general?
A.

I think it all harkens back to my experience at Boston 200, which I did just before I got my MBA. I started out my career as a teacher and then I started an education program for a museum in Salem, Massachusetts. While I was working at the museum, I got an opportunity to work for the Bicentennial in Boston ("Boston 200"). I ended up as the operations manager. It was a very exciting opportunity because it was basically a bunch of young people who don't know any better creating a series of events in Boston. I worked for Kathy Kane, the Deputy Mayor in Boston. It was totally entrepreneurial. We had to create everything—get uniforms, curate exhibits, create five information centers, teach tour guides what to say—and we were doing all this at a time when Boston was completely turning around and revitalizing. When I landed in Salem in 1971, all of Boston and Salem were in the dumper. Quincy market was just beginning to be restored, and it was the site for one of our exhibits, which was a brilliant strategy because it brought people into a location which, even while under construction, was being revitalized.

Most of the people on the Bicentennial staff ended up starting companies because we were a whole bunch of entrepreneurial people who didn't know any better. Here's an example. One day, we all sat around and asked, "What should we do for the Fourth of July in 1976?" and someone said, "Why don't we just ask the Queen of England?" So, we did. I mean, we just asked her. And she had the Britannia sail into Boston Harbor, and then we had all of these regiments with colonial costumes waiting on City Hall Plaza to greet her. It was just spectacular. I'll never forget it—I was young, I was running this operation, and all I could think about was how fun this was. I wanted to go to business school and learn more.

Q. What have you done since you graduated from HBS?
A.

After HBS, I had a heck of a time persuading anyone in manufacturing to use someone like me. But, I convinced CompuGraphic, a Rte. 128 company that produced photo typesetting equipment geared to the weekly newspaper market. CompuGraphic put me in manufacturing systems, and I found that I had the skill, thanks to Harvard, to interpret between the programmer and user, which is a rare skill I have found. Eventually, I was put in charge of all manufacturing systems, which was kind of amazing. We were trying to develop a net change MRP system on a Honeywell 6000!

But, I could see the writing on the wall as far as CompuGraphic was concerned, so my husband and I decided to create a software company. We created one of the first communications software packages that ran on an IBM PC (actually, it was IBM PC Serial #5). We did terminal emulation that included file transfer, so that you could call into a mainframe using a PC and have it look like a terminal. That was about it, but this was very sophisticated in those dates. Then, my husband decided to get involved in a communications firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I continued to run the business for awhile, but since I was in Ann Arbor and the software guy was in Massachusetts, we found a buyer called Okidata, a printer company, and sold it as Okitel.

Since we sold the company, I have done consulting and civic entrepreneurship and have loved it. I think it started with Boston 200, and matured through HBS. What's exciting is that I got to look at a city that turned around, understand how tourism, arts, and culture interacted and played into that turn-around. So, now I am very focused on quality of life issues. I am board president of Red {an orchestra}. And, of course, I continue my involvement with small-scale farming.

See other Member Interviews.

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