More than you need to know about Avram Miller
Avram Miller (born 27 January 1945), is an American-born businessperson, venture capitalist, scientist, technologist and musician. He is best known for his work at Intel Corp (1984-1999), where he served as Vice President, Business Development. Together with Les Vadász, he co-founded Intel Capital and led Intel’s successful initiative to create residential broadband which included the development of both Cable and DSL modems as well as the technical and business infrastructure to support them
His leadership developing both the technology and business infrastructure for residential broadband laid one of the most important foundations for the construction of today’s Internet. USA Today profiled Miller in its March 14,1996 issue and referred to him as “A One Man Think Tank”. In the same article, Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, gave Miller “much of the credit” for the development of the cable modem.
His work in venture capital is well recognized. In 2003, Miller occupied the number eight position in the Forbes Midas List of the top 100 people in venture capital. While at Intel, he managed a multi-billion dollar portfolio which included early investments in Broadcast.com, Cnet, Verisign, and Covad, just to name a few.
After leaving Intel in 1999, Miller founded The Avram Miller Company, which focuses on providing strategic advise to technology companies throughout the world. He served as a senior advisor to Lazard, sat on the boards of many public and private internet companies including CMGI, World Online and PCCW. He also served on the boards of entertainment companies including Maxis and King World Productions. Currently, he is Vice Chairman of Sommetrics, a sleep health company.
Miller has been active in nonprofit work. He was the founding Chair of PluggedIn (1992-1999), a Senior Advisor to Equal Access (1999-2012) and a Trustee of The California Institute of the Arts (1994-2000).
Early Life and Education
Avram Miller is a fourth-generation San Franciscan born on January 27, 1945 into a middle-class jewish family. After graduating from Drew High School in 1963, he joined the Merchant Marines as a steward. He sailed on the luxury liner, President Cleveland, between San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong and Manilla during much of 1963. He then got involved in both the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam Movement. In 1966, he worked in a government sponsored tutorial program to prepare disadvantaged youth in East Palo Alto for college called The College Readiness Program.
Miller has an eclectic background. He began working with computers in 1967. Primarily self-educated, he did not attend university but held academic appointment at two universities and was an Associate Professor before the age of thirty. He continues to pursue his life-long commitment to music including composing and playing jazz piano.
Langley Porter (1966-1969)
Towards the end of 1966, Miller was offered an opportunity to work for Joe Kamiya, PhD, at his Langley Porter Institute Lab at the University of California, San Francisco. Kamiya was a pioneer in the study of bio-feedback and the first scientist to demonstrate that human beings could learn to control their brainwaves (EEG) using bio feedback. Miller, who had a life-long interest in electronics, was responsible for developing much of the equipment used in these experiments. This provided him with the opportunity to learn all aspect of electronic design from microvolt amplifiers to special purpose digital computers.
About a year after joining Kamiya, Langley Porter got its first computer, a PDP-7 from Digital Equipment Corp. Miller had no idea what a computer was but soon after he was able to program the computer extensively and became an expert programer.
During this time, Miller learned scientific methods, statistics and advanced mathematics. By 1969, at the age of 24 and without a college degree, Miller became an expert in all aspects of real time physiological signal processing.
The Thorax Center -The Netherlands (1969-1974)
In early 1969, Miller was recruited by Prof. Paul Hugenholtz, a world renowned cardiologist to join his staff. Hugenholtz had decided to return to his native Netherlands from Boston to start a new Cardiovascular/Pulmonary Institute in Rotterdam called The Thorax Center. While collaborating with computer scientists at MIT, Hugenholtz had a vision for the Thorax Center that involved deep integration of computing technology both in patient care and in research. Miller was given an appointment to the academic staff at Erasmus University and he began to build a very capable computer department. It was early in this period that Miller transitioned from an individual contributor to a manager running a dept of about thirty professionals.
In his five years at The Thorax Center, Miller and his team developed one of the first online intensive care monitoring systems, a Catherization Laboratory System and the first system to support echocardiograms. During this time, Miller co-authored many academic papers in both medical and computer publications.
Mennen Greatbatch-Israel (1974-1979)
In 1974, at the age of 29, Miller and his family immigrated to Israel. Miller decided that he would leave the academic world and start a business career. However, he accepted an appointment as Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University.
Miller joined a medical electronics company, Mennen Greatbach which had a subsidiary in Israel. There he started the computer division of the parent company and commercialized some of the work that was done at the Thorax Center. Miller was not only responsible for product development but also sales, marketing and finance. It was during this period that Miller gained substantial business experience.
Digital Equipment Corp & Back to the USA (1979-1983)
Upon returning to the United States in 1979, Miller joined the Central Engineering Department of Digital Equipment Corporation, which was at that time the number two computer company in the world. The group he managed was responsible for hardware development and support of all low-end computers.
A year later, Miller was tapped by Ken Olsen, the founder and CEO of the company, to head new group dedicated to developing Digital’s entry into the personal computer market. The products developed by the group were known as the Professional Series and were very advanced from a technology point of view. The Professional 350, introduced at the 1982 National Computer Conference in Houston, ran a multi-processing operating system and utilized a 5 megabyte Winchester Drive. It ran a fully bitmapped display and had built-in Ethernet capability.
Unfortunately for Digital, IBM introduced its personal computer in August 1981. The combination of its low price and open standards – which allowed for clone companies like Compaq – totally changed the dynamics of the computer industry. In the meantime Olsen decided to have Digital bring out two new personal computers not compatible with the Professional or each other. Ken Olsen is quoted in the book “The Ultimate Entrepreneur”, as saying “let the customers decide which computer to buy.” Miller is then quoted as saying “And they did. They chose IBM”.
Digital had commissioned a documentary movie to celebrate the companies 25th anniversary primarily focused on Miller’s work at Digital. The movie was never released by the company but copies do exist including one at the Computer Museum which can be seen here.
Franklin Computer Company (1983-1984)
In 1983, Miller realized that Digital would not be successful in creating a major position in the personal computer market. The computer world was about to be turned sideways – from large companies that were vertically integrated like Digital – to horizontal companies that focused on just one aspect of the business such as Intel (microprocessors), Microsoft (software), Seagate (disks), Intel (microprocessors), systems (Compaq) and even sales (Computerland).
He was offered the position of Chief Operating Officer at an early stage Apple II Clone company called, Franklin Computer and was later named President. Franklin was growing very quickly. It’s revenues were approximately $80 million dollars in it first year of operations. But the company was locked into a legal battle with Apple that prevented the company from getting adequate financing. Miller left the company in April 1984.
Intel (1984-1999) and the birth of Intel Capital
In 1984, Intel Corporation was primarily in the business of selling memory chips and the company that was under attack by Japanese manufactures. Intel knew it needed to transition the business away from memory chips and into microprocessors.
Les Vadász, a day one employee of Intel and Vice President and Director to the Corporate Strategic Staff was on the outlook for someone from the computer industry that could join his group and provide strategic insight. He recruited Avram Miller who joined Intel in August 1984.
Initially, Miller was assigned to help a division of the company that developed computer products, called the System Group.
Later, Miller started up an M&A activity and acquired a few companies primarily in network technology. Given the strong Intel culture, these acquisitions had limited benefit. It was then that Miller realized that minority investments in early stage companies could provide Intel with strategic insight, ways to grow the overall market and a financial return.
Miller was given the title of Vice President Business Development and a few years later was elected Corporate Vice President by the Intel board of directors. He put together a small group and began to make such early stage investments.
After a number of successful investments, Intel’s CEO Andy Grove, accepted a recommendation from Vadász that the venture investment activity be accelerated. Vadász joined Miller in creating the Corporative Business Development group (CBD) which later was renamed Intel Capital. Intel Capital became the most successful Corporate Venture Group in in the field of technology.
In addition to the strategic benefits gained through the minority investments, the investments began to provide substantial financial rewards.
While Vadász expanded the group to include investments in Enterprise Software, Semi Conductor Manufacturing, Health and Education, Miller focused the consumer facing business and in particular in the rapid growth of the Internet. He invested in such companies as GeoCities, Broadcast.com, Covad, Verisign, Cnet, and CMGI.
By the time Miller left Intel in April of 1999, the investment he managed had made billions of dollars for Intel.
The Development of Residential Broadband
In 1992, Avram Miller was asked by Andy Grove to be the Intel point person to work with Microsoft developing a number of consumer initiatives. His counterpart at Microsoft was Rob Glaser who later founded Real Networks, and then Craig Mundie, who became the CTO of Microsoft. The two companies set up teams to work on a number of projects. Miller became part of the Intel Executive Team that attended quarterly meetings with Bill Gates and many of his top managers.
One of the projects that the companies worked on together was the development of an Interactive Set Top Box for the cable industry. This project also involved General Instruments, then headed by Donald Rumsfeld later Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush. General Instruments owned Jerold, the largest supplier of Set Tops. The person working with Intel and Microsoft was the CTO, Matt Miller.
In the process of working on this project, Miller learned about the cable industry and its infrastructure. By the end of 1992, it became apparent to Miller that it would not be possible to build an Interactive Set Top at a price point acceptable to the cable industry. Together with Matt Miller, he realized that much of the technology that was being developed for Digital TV could be used to create high speed residential broadband. General Instruments and Intel then began to develop both cable modems and the head-end equipment used as a gateway to the Internet. They kept this project secret from Microsoft.
It was then that Avram Miller began the most important work of his career. He realized that the combination of powerful personal computers in the home and high speed access to the internet could result in a new medium for communication, education, commerce, and entertainment.
In addition to funding the Intel Labs to develop the core architecture to be used in cable Internet broadband, Miller met with all the CEOs of the major cable companies – including John Malone of TCI and Brian Roberts of Comcast – to convince them that cable companies could be become more than just distributors of television programing– they could become communication companies. He traveled to Japan, Korea, the UK, France and Germany delivering the same message. He organized the first major trials of cable modems with Comcast and Viacom (who owned a cable business at the time). In 1993, Intel demonstrated working cable modems at a major cable industry conferences.
He also knew that applications would be key. He was able to get such companies as America Online, Prodigy and Intuit to participate in the trials. Intel then provided the key specification to the Cable Lab (the research arm of the cable industry) which became DOCSIS – Data Over Cable Service Interface specification. Intel licensed modem manufactures such as Cisco, HP, and AT&T, and worked with component suppliers like Broadcom in which Intel also had an investment.
Miller and his team at CBD invested extensively in companies that would benefit from the development of high speed residential broadband from components to consumer applications.
Recognizing that the cable industry did not have the technical capabilities to manage an Internet business, he conceived of a company that would provide these services and convinced the venture group Kleiner Perkins to work with the cable industry to create the company @Home in which Intel would also invest.
In addition to the development of broadband cable, Miller drove the activities to created high speed DSL and worked extensively with telephone companies throughout the world.
Miller was tireless in his promotion of the connected PC as the interactive device for the home. He spoke at industry conferences including the National Association of Broadcasters, Cable Industry Conference, and Computer Industry events. In, 1996, together with the Creative Artist Agency, he established a demo lab at their facility to educate Hollywood talent on the potential of the Internet for entertainment.
The result of this work can be seen in the penetration of residential broadband. In 2014, more than 80% of homes in the developed world had broadband access
The Avram Miller Company
Miller left Intel in April 1999 to start The Avram Miller Company, a strategy and business development company providing services to Internet companies internationally. In addition, he served on the boards of many public (CMGI, World Online and PCCW) and private companies (heavy.com).He was a senior advisor to Lazard Frères & Co (now the Lazard Group), and he invested in early stage companies for his own account.
In 2003, Miller was listed as number eight in Forbes’ Midas List of the top 100 tech investors.
Miler, returned to his roots in bio medical engineering in 2012 when he joined the board of Sommetrics, a sleep health company. He is the company’s Vice Chairman and a member of the the Executive Committee.
Author: The Flight of a Wild Duck, an Improbable Journey through life and Technology
Miller’s first book was published on September 1st, 2021. It is available in all formats on Amazon and other book distributors. The books website is http://www.wildduckflight.com.
Avram Miller and his wife Deborah, live in Sonoma CA and Tel Aviv, Israel. He has two grown children from his first marriage and four grandsons.
He continues to study jazz piano, composing music and pursuing his interest in computer technology.
Miller is an active blogger at www.twothirdsdone.com. He believes that one of his greatest contributions to the future of technology is to document its past.