Harold Hamilton: Listening is Key
Even as a kid, Harold Hamilton (EE M.S. ’72) showed a knack for knowing how to fix things. His father operated a ranch in the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, and when the wheel came off a tractor or an engine began to sputter, Hamilton would roll up his sleeves and figure out how to remedy the problem. “I was good at repairing things,” Hamilton said.
Today, as the founder and president of Micro Control Company, Hamilton is still problem solving—but the challenges involve management, marketing, finance, and quality control, as well as technical knowhow. At Micro Control’s main plant in Fridley, Minn., 170 employees test computer chips using a microprocessor- controlled test system that Hamilton invented in 1973—the first in the industry. The company’s customer list includes such high-profile names as Samsung, Qualcomm, Toshiba, and Hitachi.
Hamilton’s skills at fixing things proved useful when he was drafted into the Korean War after high school. He spent much of his service aboard destroyers, fixing electronic equipment, and under the G.I. Bill, he ultimately enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Nebraska, earning a bachelor’s degree. A job offer from Control Data brought him to the Twin Cities after graduation. He worked on designing computer systems, completed a master’s in electrical engineering from the University in 1972, and eventually took a job at Memorex. When that company folded, Hamilton decided to launch his own business.
"The first thing I do every morning when I get to work is this: I walk down the hall and talk to the people working on sales with customers."
— Harold Hamilton
“That was back in the day when computers had multiple motherboards,” Hamilton recalls. “They needed to be tested in a manufacturing environment so I designed a piece of equipment that could do that.”
Supplementing his income from sales with some consulting work, Hamilton managed to get the company off the ground by working hard and keeping costs low. At one point, there was an employee working in almost every room of the Hamiltons’ house in Columbia Heights: a tech in the basement, a software engineer in an upstairs bedroom, and Hamilton—the salesman—working off the kitchen table.
“My wife didn’t mind,” Hamilton said. “She thought it was better than having to move somewhere else.”
Business took off almost immediately, and in 1977, Hamilton moved the company, which became Micro Control, to its current site in Fridley. The firm’s product line has grown in recent years based on customers’ needs. In fact, listening to customer feedback and responding accordingly has been key to the company’s success, Hamilton said.
“The first thing I do every morning when I get to work is this: I walk down the hall and talk to the people working on sales with customers,” Hamilton said.
Aspiring entrepreneurs would do well to heed Hamilton’s advice. “Most of the ideas we get for new products come from our customers,” he added.