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McGovern recalled as 'a catalyst of the computer industry'

Patrick Thibodeau | March 21, 2014
Launched IDG and Computerworld with a focus on user in the era of Cobol, IBM's System/360 and other mainframes from companies long gone

In June 1967, when Patrick J. McGovern published the first issue of Computerworld it did something different. It reported on the computing industry from a user perspective.

Its headlines about disk drive failures, lost data and troubled products upset IT vendors.

"They said, 'You are the enemy of our industry," said McGovern, in an earlier interview. "We put out the publication, almost without any ads at all for the first six months."

McGovern, who died Wednesday, was an editor, publisher and entrepreneur who founded International Data Group, a global publishing and market research organization.

He also gave back — a gift of $350 million from McGovern and his wife Lore in 2000 launched the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

He was an MIT grad with a prodigious memory that he used to endear himself to people, even as IDG grew to thousands of employees. McGovern remembered the names of employees, details about their work, and even the names of the spouses and children of those he knew particularly well.

"He had a memory that was absolutely remarkable," said Gary Beach, publisher emeritus of CIO, an IDG publication.

McGovern's work in publishing and market research came at a particularly interesting time.

The 1960s was the era of COBOL, the IBM System/360, and other mainframe and midrange systems by vendors now long gone. Bill Gates was in secondary school.

The first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club, where Steve Wozniak got some of ideas that would help lead to Apple, would not happen until 1975.

McGovern formed his business ideas in an era when IT was called data processing. The role of computing in business was accelerating, but the number of IT professionals was small, in the range of 300,000.

"The data processing manager was sort of the punch card guy and wasn't thought much of," said Drake Lundell, editor of Computerworld from 1968 until the early 1980s.

McGovern's work in IT publishing began while he was a student at MIT. He got a part-time editorial job at early computer magazine Computers and Automation, which became a full-time job after graduating in 1959.

The first issue of Computerworld, June, 21, 1967.

Working at Computers and Automation gave McGovern access to vendors and thought leaders, which he relished.

At one meeting with the head of Univac, the number two computer company at the time, McGovern told the company that it was investing millions of dollars in new technology development with "no knowledge about what the needs of the market were."

Univac's officials concurred, and said was "100% correct" with this assessment.

There was a clear need for market data at the time, and McGovern created International Data Corp. to gather it. Demand for its market research from vendors was almost instantaneous.


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