Head of the Spinnaker family

 Ron Bianchini takes a cue from his grandmother in running telecom start-up

May 24, 2004

Ron Bianchini, M.S. 1986, Ph.D. 1989; President and CEO, Spinnaker Networks Inc., O'Hara Township


Fox Chapel

Carnegie Mellon University professor for seven years; Scalable Networks Inc.; FORE Systems Inc.; Spinnaker Networks Inc.

First job
Software programmer while still in high school for Elmsford, N.Y.-based TASA Inc.

Stuyvesant High School, a magnet school in Manhattan with rigorous math and science courses; Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; master's and doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from CMU.

Parents' jobs
Father, ran the engineering lab at NYU; mother, homemaker

Wife, Emily; daughters, Elaina, Elizabeth and Emilia.

What's on his desk
A small flag embellished with a rat exiting its hole. It's used during engineering brainstorming sessions. When the conversation strays, someone waves the flag to indicate the discussion has "gone down a rat hole" in an attempt to bring it back on track.

As if the birth of his third daughter wasn't enough reason to celebrate, six hours after the delivery Ron Bianchini received a call from his employer, Marconi Communications, offering him a promotion to vice president of product architecture. "I was giddy," he said. "I had just got off the phone with my parents telling them about the baby and I was being offered this huge big-deal promotion." But the more Mr. Bianchini looked into the position, the more he didn't want it.

"A week later, I told them I was flattered," he said. And he told them he was leaving. Mr. Bianchini had sold his first company, Scalable Networks Inc., to the former FORE Systems Inc. in 1996 for $39 million in stock. The sale came just eight months after he and fellow Carnegie Mellon University professor Hyong Kim had founded Scalable. Mr. Bianchini stayed with FORE, and then Marconi, for three years until October 1999.

While the Marconi promotion would have meant worldwide corporate responsibilities, he preferred the start-up atmosphere and product development. "That was always the most fun for me," he said.

So, despite promising his wife that he'd take a break before deciding on his new venture, he and five other former FORE employees started Spinnaker Networks Inc. in December 1999. While Scalable, FORE and Marconi, and Spinnaker all create telecommunications network tools, each offers a slightly different product.

Mr. Bianchini is hoping the O'Hara Township firm's combination hardware and software technology will garner the attention of Internet service providers, companies that host Web sites and other information tech firms that need high-performance computer networks. They plan to have the Spinnaker storage server for sale in the first half of 2002.

While the six founders each put seed money into Spinnaker, it has since received significant outside interest. In April 2000, Spinnaker landed $20.4 million from Menlo Park, Calif.-based Menlo Ventures and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Norwest Venture Partners; the second-largest first-round venture investment in Pittsburgh history. Mr. Bianchini is making the rounds again, drumming up interest in search of more funding.

Mr. Bianchini got the attention of Ernst & Young earlier this year, when that firm named him the "Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year" for the region. Dave Nelsen, CEO of Wexford-based CoManage Corp., was an E&Y judge. "We looked at several dozen companies," Mr. Nelsen said. "Every one was impressive at one level or another, but the potential and the energy around (Spinnaker) was something that impressed me and the other judges." Mr. Nelsen, who also left FORE to start Wexford-based telecom firm CoManage, remembers Mr. Bianchini. "FORE had a tremendously smart group of people and he stood out among them all," Mr. Nelsen said. "Clearly he is one the brightest of the brightest."

Mr. Nelsen said Mr. Bianchini has a good head for business, but his true strength lies in his technical vision and abilities. "He can be super-technical and also very down-to-earth and unassuming," he said. "Some really brilliant people are not like that at all."

Jeff Hornung, Spinnaker's vice president of marketing, said Mr. Bianchini's personality fits with each of the firm's constituencies---from venture capitalists, to customers to employees. "Ron is unique in that he can operate in the extremes," Mr. Hornung said. "In talking to venture capitalists, he can talk about the business aspects and then he's down there with the engineers scribbling on the white board about the technology."

Will his business skills continue to evolve? Even Mr. Bianchini is uncertain.

"Am I the guy that takes this company public or is CEO of a large company? I don't know," Mr. Bianchini said. "I just don't know."

His management style, he says, comes from his grandmother, the matriarch of his large Italian family. "We get the family together," he said. "It's loud and boisterous. And then when we're done, we feed everybody."

So, every Monday he holds a state-of-the-company meeting in which employees ask questions and issues emerge. "At the end, we bring in lunch," he said.

At 106 employees and growing, Mr. Bianchini tries to keep everyone in the loop.

One way he does that is with a gong, located outside his office. Every time a new milestone is met, an employee bangs the gong and shouts out the achievement. "Everyone pops above their cubicles like meerkats and applauds," he said. "We're taking big steps daily."

Jack Roseman, head of the Roseman Institute at Buchanan Ingersol PC, is an investor in Spinnaker and a long-time mentor of Mr. Bianchini. "He comes across as somewhat boyish and somewhat naïve," Mr. Roseman said. "The fact of the matter is, he is just the extreme opposite internally --- very shrewd, very capable with a good business sense. He can disarm people very easily with his charm."

Jay Katarincic, of Downtown-based Draper Triangle Ventures LP, was another E&Y judge. Draper Triangle is not an investor in Spinnaker. Mr. Katarincic said Mr. Bianchini's employees nominated him for the award, which was somewhat rare. "I think that says something," Mr. Katarincic said. "His leadership focuses on making sure people are excited and passionate about what they do and are having fun while they're doing it."

Source: Pittsburgh Business Times, November 2002

Headshot of Ronald Bianchini