Creative Inspiration

D'Amore is still driving product development


Mike D'Amore

When Mike D'Amore helped oversee the development of a new HD slow-motion playback device for use at the Albertville Olympics in 1992, little did he know that the system would change the direction not only of BTS, then a camera and router manufacturer, but also of the industry.

To acquire HDTV images, the recorder sliced the video frame into six strips, each processed by a different part of the drive. The six strips were then recombined into one frame for playback. That's when BTS engineers realized they could use the same system to create a server capable of six channels of standard-definition video storage. D'Amore gave them the go-ahead on development, and, at the next NAB, the Media Pool video server was the hit of the show.

"People immediately saw the benefit of that system," D'Amore says, "and we were flooded with people who wanted to see it." At NAB back then, manufacturers issued admission tickets for some product demonstrations, and he recalls attendees' pleading to get in to see the server. "The Media Pool also had several patents," he adds, "as it was the first storage area networked server allowing multiple users to access the same shared storage system."

In a way, at that moment, D'Amore's career had come full circle. Growing up in Milwaukee in the late '50s, he was drawn to a career in electrical engineering. A student at his hometown's Milwaukee Institute of Technology, he was still searching out career options when a co-op program with the University of Tennessee gave him a chance to work in systems engineering for heating and air-conditioning manufacturer Johnson Control.

He found himself drawn to the sales side, though. "I was working late at night on a large project, and I noticed that the engineering-sales guys would go out for dinner with their customers," he recalls. "It seemed that I was doing all the work, and they were having all the fun."

So D'Amore changed his focus and headed for a career in marketing and sales. "I learned that I was a little more extroverted than I thought," he says. Over four decades of marketing and product management, he has been in the hothouse of television technology, helping create products that changed the medium.

Now in semiretirement from Thomson Grass Valley, D'Amore is attending this week's NAB show without the pressures of full-time booth duty for the first time since the 1960s. During his career, he spent time at Ampex as director of worldwide marketing for VTRs (1979-89) and in other sales, marketing, and product-management positions, as well. He also helped set the strategic direction for BTS as vice president, business development. BTS was later acquired by Thomson and is now part of Thomson Grass Valley.

While working at Ampex headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., D'Amore made a shift and became product manager. There, he was mentored by Mark Sanders, who would later start Pinnacle Systems. D'Amore credits Sanders with teaching him a big lesson: The key to project management is drawing on people power to give employees the freedom to innovate. You can't control innovation, but you can guide it.

As a result, D'Amore believed in letting his staff do their own thing.

"Our engineering team wanted access to the building at night," he recalls, "and they wanted to be able to get access to their computers by modem so they could work from home and work harder at their own pace." That violated company rules, but he realized that it also fostered the creative process. The engineers won the day.

Despite the engineers' commitment to hard work, Ampex began to slip, particularly after being acquired by Signal Corp.

Signal management, D'Amore thinks, sacrificed long-term goals for short-term earnings. "That allowed the Japanese manufacturers to gain entry into the market." Today, Ampex is a shadow of its former self.

He left Ampex because of the direction the company was taking. And he had a chance to join Dick Crippa, now with Snell & Wilcox, in starting BTS, a joint venture launched by Philips and Bosch. (It later would be owned solely by Philips and be known as Philips BTS). D'Amore headed business development.

During his tenure at BTS, he oversaw development of some of the more interesting and innovative products for station operations; besides Media Pool, its cameras and routing and production switchers were respected across the industry.

D'Amore oversaw more than product development. When Philips BTS was acquired by Thomson in 2001, he remained on board and helped the next year with the merger of Grass Valley into Thomson—moves that were part of Thomson's effort to position itself to take on Sony.

"You need to reach critical mass. In some cases, merging engineering capabilities can be synergistic and allows a reduction of related administrative rolls and functions," he says of the Thomson makeover. "When we sat down and looked at the match between Thomson and Grass Valley, it was absolutely perfect."

D'Amore had envisioned some headaches in the Thomson-Grass Valley marriage. "I thought merging the engineering teams was going to be a disaster," he says, given that the combined teams would be located on two continents. But when the two developed the Kayak production switcher, with the control panel designed in Germany and the electronic design handled in California, he realized it was a special relationship. "That team," he says, "showed that Thomson is a global company with global engineering sources."

D'Amore expects the IT-based infrastructure to continue to change the way end users and manufacturers approach their businesses. The recent shift to servers from videotape returns the market advantage to U.S.-based companies that excel in server development and marketing.

"It also changes our workflow," he adds, "because we can have more collaboration and sharing of ideas so more products can be produced more quickly and more efficiently."

And server technology continues to move downmarket, in products like Thomson's M-Series iVDR. "Desktop video has empowered the masses," D'Amore says, "so there is a huge market at the bottom empowered by being able to do editing on the PC."

Technology has come a long way from D'Amore's early days, when the NAB convention was attended by about 5,000 people. This week, more than 100,000 people will descend on the Las Vegas Convention Center to see the latest in broadcast technology. A lot of that technology will be there because he helped champion its development.