bf sv nation burge obit
SAN FRANCISCO--Frank Burge, an electrical engineer turned
marketer-publisher who helped launch an obscure company named Apple
and went on to mentor thousands in the tech world,
passed away Aug. 29 after a battle with cancer. He was 78.
Burge had stints at legendary Silicon Valley firms such as Beckman
Instruments and Fairchild before he joined the famed
advertising/public-relations firm Regis McKenna in 1974. Several
years later, a young Steve Jobs, struck by an Intel Corp.
advertising campaign, called McKenna, the semiconductor company's
agency. McKenna's secretary passed the call onto Burge, who was in
charge of new accounts.
The Apple account
According to the story told many times, including by Jobs'
biographer Walter Isaacson, Burge told Jobs Apple wasn't established
enough for a company of Regis McKenna's stature. Jobs persisted, and
Burge relented to a meeting.
According to Isaacson's account:
"Burge finally agreed to drive out to the Jobs
garage. “Holy Christ, this guy is going to be something else,”
he recalled thinking. “What’s the least amount of time I can spend with this clown without being rude.”
Then, when he was confronted with the unwashed and shaggy Jobs,
two things hit him: “First, he was an incredibly smart young man. Second, I
didn’t understand a fiftieth of what he was talking about.”
Regis McKenna soon after took the account and helped launch one of
the successful companies in history.
A few years after the Apple success, Burge shifted course, moving
back to Long Island to join the electronics-publishing industry at
EE Times in 1980. There, working with editor Girish Mhatre, the two
began to make a bold run at the industry's top publication at the
time, Electronic News, by building a franchise for "techno-business"
news stories and a laser focus on engineering managers. In 1988,
Burge took over as publisher of Electronic Business magazine.
Burge and his wife, Barbara, moved to Los Gatos,
Calif., in 1996 and he retired in 2006, although he continued to
consult for EE Times and UBM Electronics in the years since then.
Most recently he chaired the informal "Ad Hoc Group" meeting of
semiconductor-industry marketers, hosting informal dinners in cities
such as San Jose and Austin where guests talked in a collegial forum
about their challenges and potential solutions. Always a
community-builder, Burge invariably started any meeting with his
famous ice-breaker: "What was the name of your grammar school and
where was it?"
"Frank understood that even the technology business – even engineers
– are much more than 1’s and 0’s," said Joseph McCarthy, senior
director, corporate marketing, at Cypress Semiconductor. "He
understood the value of history, including personal history, and he
understood the value of personal connection."
Burge, the German-Irish son of the south side of Chicago, also had a nose for
The martini test
Bob Dumas, a longtime sales executive with UBM Electronics, recalled
the day Burge hired him. During the interview, Burge noted that Dumas played basketball in high school and college and worked as a bartender.
"How do you make a martini?" Burge asked.