The late Harold Frank grew up in Walla Walla, where his Germans-from-Russia immigrant parents owned a grocery store. He started at Whitman College working his way and then transferred to Washington State College, where he studied engineering.
He entered the military and became a radio operator in the infantry with service in the European Theater of Operations.
After the war, he returned to finish his degree in 1948 with the benefit of the GI Bill.
After graduation, he went to work at Conoco, where he worked on a seismograph crew. He helped develop a magnetic tape recording process that aided in the identification of oil deposits. He then founded Applied Magnetics, which became a leading manufacturer of magnetic recording heads used in computers. Under his direction, the company grew to 21 divisions in 12 countries, employing 14,000.
Frank was busy building his company for 40 years, but in recent years has been inspired to help students after being invited to speak to classes. He found students to be greatly interested in his story and his advice.
The GI Bill, which had been of such a help to him finishing college, gave him the inspiration to establish scholarships for others.
How much did Harold Frank attribute his success to luck?
“One hundred percent.” Early on, Frank was wondering about starting his company. He had no office or even office furniture. An agent from an oil company called him and said that he wanted 130 magnetic heads. When Frank responded that he didn’t have a business, the agent said, “But, I heard you’re going to start one.” Frank agreed to start it.
Another time, he was very fortunate when he learned that equipment that he needed was sitting in a nearby airport, and the owner was very interested in giving it away. “The harder I worked, the luckier I got.”
On knowing your company:
“I walked around the company. I never sent the secretary to get my coffee. I’d get it on my own.”
Harold Frank (left) and former WSU President V. Lane Rawlins
Harold Frank (center) with Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute Fellows