John Robert (Rob) Held, who made a name for himself in the networking industry during the 1980s and 1990s as president and CEO of Ethernet hub pioneer Chipcom, has died at age of 74. Held suffered a brain hemorrhage earlier this month and died in Boston.
Held had an unusual background for a network industry executive, serving six years in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant on a Polaris submarine after earning a bachelor's degree in engineering from Yale University in 1961. He later earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and went on to work at electronic test equipment company GenRad for 14 years, before taking the reins at Chipcom.
Chipcom become known not just as a feisty competitor to other early network companies such as Cabletron and SynOptics, but also as a spirited place to work, where employees referred to themselves as "Chippers" and held parties called "Chipcom proms." 3Com bought the company and its ONcore and other products for $775 million in 1995 (and Network World actually moved into the former Chipcom space in Southborough, Mass.). HP bought 3Com in 2011.
The last time I spoke with Held was at a Chipcom alumni party held in Cambridge, Mass., in 2004. You can read more about that here. He said at the time, modestly, that the company was really brought together during an 18-month period when it was without a CEO, before his arrival.
"People got used to making compromises across departments," he said. "It fostered a lot of trust among people and that never went away."
That's reflected in tributes left at this website, where Held's family has invited friends and family to share stories and memories. Wrote one former co-worker: "Chipcom became my yardstick by which I would measure every other company I worked for, and Rob was the CEO that no one has ever come close to matching."
John Ricciardone, who worked at Chipcom, said, "The leadership and cultural tone set by Rob (along with his entire senior management team), and enthusiastically embraced and put into practice by the employees, was truly a once-in-a-career, treasured moment in time." Ricciardone said one of his favorite memories was of the marketing staff late one night transforming Held's office into a beach scene, with lots of sand, as an April Fool's prank, and of Held leaving it that way for a couple of weeks, so that he could show it to visitors.
According to an obituary posted this weekend, Held retired after Chipcom was sold, devoting time to serving on boards of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Later in life he dedicated time to the Bolton Conservation Trust and the New England Wildflower Society. Shortly before Held died, he was said to be planning a ski trip to Jackson Hole, a full knee replacement, and a family trip to Switzerland.
Held is survived by his wife of 45 years, Lucille Scott Held, and two children.