Stephen F. Thornton
Transforming the World’s Data Centers with Hardware Innovations
Inducted in 2001
Raised in the small north Alabama town of Rogersville, Stephen F. Thornton is a lifetime resident of the state and an electrical engineering graduate of Auburn University. Successful people characteristically desire to “give back” to the communities that shaped them. Mr. Thornton can rest assured that Alabama is better off today for his having been here. Last year, Mr. Thornton was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young (Southeast technology, communication, and entertainment division). The award honors people who have “taken their dreams and turned them into reality, prosperity, jobs, and countless benefits for their industries and… communities.” That is Mr. Thornton. The company his dream built was Cybex Computer Products of Huntsville.
Mr. Thornton joined the two-man operation that was then Cybex in 1983 as a board member. A year later he became its president and chief executive officer. In these initial years, Mr. Thornton assumed substantial personal debt just to ensure Cybex could make its payroll. He took a risk, persevered under duress, and was able to take his first-class international technology company public in 1995. Under his leadership, Cybex has experienced more than 23 consecutive quarters of record growth — a growth rate of 40 percent or more each year. For its fiscal year ending March 31, 2000, revenues were $120.4 million. The company employs some 200 people in Alabama, 350 worldwide.
Over fifteen years ago, Cybex participated in several market areas, offering software solutions to clients in the young PC marketplace. Upon his arrival, Mr. Thornton quickly perceived that the company possessed technology to solve a growing problem: the need to remotely locate computers from the keyboards and monitors providing operator control. He redirected Cybex’s efforts toward hardware solutions, extending the signal –— and therefore the distance — between a computer’s CPU and its keyboard, monitor, and mouse peripherals. The end product was called a KVM (keyboard/video monitor/mouse) Extender, and it was unlike anything seen before.
But Mr. Thornton foresaw that the company would not reach full potential selling only extenders. He launched an initiative to produce switches, as well. The company soon offered PC users the ability to control multiple computers with a single keyboard setup. Through Mr. Thornton’s vision and determination, Cybex became the global leader in switching, extension, and remote-access solutions. Today, with its routine investment in research and development, Cybex has become an ideal environment for young Alabama engineers investigating their own ideas — contributing to the continued success our state enjoys in engineering and technology fields.
Very recently, Mr. Thornton engineered the merger of his company with Apex Inc. a leader in server console management and switching technology. The new organization, Avocent Corporation, has an estimated market capitalization of $2.5 billion. Mr. Thornton serves as chairman, president, and chief executive officer. Avocent customers include Bank of America, Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, the New York Stock Exchange, Siemens, Wal-Mart, and www.amazon.com.
Following his studies at Auburn University in the early 1960s, Mr. Thornton worked as a contractor on electronic countermeasure testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Subsequently, he was employed by Boeing on the Saturn Five rocket design project that culminated in the “man on the moon” launch. Later, while working for SCI Systems, he was integral to the design effort for the F-14, F-15, and F-16 fighter jets.
Branching out from the aerospace industry, Mr. Thornton joined SCI Systems as a test engineer. In a decade, he had risen through the ranks to become the company’s vice president of communications products. In this capacity, he was responsible for product marketing, financing, development, manufacturing, and sales. Also prior to his association with Cybex, Mr. Thornton served for two years as the president of Schiller Industries.
Mr. Thorton has been married to the former Judy Pierce for 33 years. They have a son and a daughter and two grandchildren.