1 August 2006
Wonderware Pioneer Pitsker Wins ISA Life Achievement Award
“ ‘Corporate conscience’ seems largely to be an oxymoron. Perhaps we need more use of automation technologies to take on the challenge of preserving this planet.” —Pitsker
By Jim Strothman
Today, jumping on Microsoft’s bandwagon seems like a no-brainer. Not so in 1989, however. Then, Microsoft’s fledgling Windows operating system was fraught with problems, giving users fits.
Both Microsoft and arch-rival IBM, armed with its OS/2 competitive system, were pulling out all the sales pitch stops at the humongous Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas. Like gamblers throwing money all around, betting on Windows was a crap shoot, at best.
It seemed incongruous that a player in the notoriously conservative control industry—with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude—would be among the first to “bet the company” on Windows. But that is exactly what then little-known Wonderware did.
Control industry entrepreneur Peter Pitsker—that human-machine interface (HMI) startup’s first president and chairman—was at the helm when the high-risk decision was made by company executives and technical strategists to base Wonderware’s HMI software entirely on Microsoft’s Windows operating system, while more conservative competitors spread their investment eggs among other baskets.
Pitsker, who steered ultimately fast-growing and high-flying Wonderware during the early 1990s, won ISA’s Life Achievement Award.
Currently retired, but serving as a director of SCADA software supplier Visual Systems, San Luis Obispo, Calif., Pitsker in 1983 was a major contributor to the business plan and product strategy for then startup Triconex. From 1989 to 1993, he served as Wonderware chairman and president, and vice president of strategic sales.
“Total shock is the first reaction,” Pitsker said when asked his reaction to receiving the ISA award. “The truth is I have spent most of my career helping people who are much smarter than I. Also, I have learned the most in my career from those who supposedly worked for me—people like Al Rayshich, John Corsi, Don Zee, and Larry Soule at The Foxboro Company, for example, or Bob Harrison and Jon Wimer at General Automation. I have been blessed to be surrounded by very talented people throughout my career.”
“His career exemplifies the success that can accrue to an individual who is committed to advancing I, S, and A technologies,” said Bob Ives, ISA Life Achievement subcommittee chair.
Pitsker’s achievement will be recognized at ISA’s 2006 Honors & Awards (H&A) banquet on 16 October at the Hyatt RegencyHouston.
Now owned by Invensys, Wonderware today remains a leading supplier of industrial automation and information software, boasting some 325,000 software licenses in approximately 100,000 plants worldwide, or about 30% of the world’s 335,000 plants with 20 or more employees.
Prior to Wonderware, Pitsker was president and chief executive of North & Donahoe, an Irvine, Calif.-based investment firm. He served as a marketing and sales executive in the mid-1970s for then fast-growing minicomputer maker General Automation, Inc.; U.S. sales director for Modular Computer Systems, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., 1972-1975; and vice president for marketing and sales for The Foxboro Company, 1966-1972.
He served as board director for North & Donahoe, Wonderware, Borealis Corp., Efinity Corp., CygNet Software, and Visual Systems Corp.
Don Allen, Wonderware’s director of corporate communications during its high-flying 1990s growth period, in a letter supporting Pitsker’s nomination for the ISA award, said Pitsker’s “depth of knowledge in the control and automation fields was extensive.
“I doubt that Wonderware, in particular, would have been the industry influencer it was through the 1990s if it hadn’t been for Pete’s involvement,” he said. Allen has known Pitsker more than 30 years and worked with him at Modular Computer Systems, General Automation, and Triconex, prior to Wonderware.
Pitsker was initially recommended for an ISA award by Robert W. Harrison, an ISA Life Fellow who worked with Pitsker at General Automation, Triconex, and Borealis Corp. ISA’s Honors and Awards Committee received numerous other letters of recommendation supporting Pitsker’s award nomination. Senders included executives and colleagues from CygNet Software, Distributed Power Services Inc., Modcomp, Wonderware, Triconex, General Automation, Jontec Systems, Foxboro, RiverOne, and Novus Ventures.
Asked about his perspective on the automation industry and some secrets to success, Pitsker said: “I have seen (the industry) progress from largely mechanical and pneumatic instruments and controls to electronic and then to digital. When I was working for Foxboro, I recognized early on that I personally needed to improve my knowledge in the future technologies, so as a chemical engineering graduate with only broad-brush exposure to them, I first took courses in electronics and then in digital systems and programming,” he said.
“Digital technology has provided the means for significantly improving our control systems, our quality monitoring, and our availability to executive management of timely data on all phases of the manufacturing process,” he said.
“What is missing from the equation, in many cases, is a higher standard throughout industry to minimize the impact of the entire manufacturing enterprise on the world around us—from raw material extraction to finished product, including all of the various side streams out of the process. Most monitoring is done to merely satisfy whatever regulations exist on a particular industry,” said Pitsker. “ ‘Corporate Conscience’ seems largely to be an oxymoron. Perhaps we need more use of automation technologies to take on the challenge of preserving this planet.”