October 1 – Happy Birthday Dave Stahl

davestahlphoto222I had the great fortune to attend Guy Park Avenue School. I’m sure there are thousands of current and former Amsterdam residents who also feel their elementary school was the “perfect place” to learn but in my case that classic building on that once stately avenue was educational paradise. No gym, no cafeteria, no library but instead nine barebones classrooms filled with nine hard-working teachers and a couple hundred of the nicest kids you ever wanted to meet.Dave Stahl was a great example of the type of person that made Guy Park School special. He was in my older brother Jerry’s grade. His dad Roy had been an outstanding athlete in his younger days, one of this city’s best schoolboy baseball pitchers and not to shabby on the gridiron either. Dave lived up on Lily Street and he had a twin sister named Daryl who was already a knockout in grade school. Even though it has been over half a century since both Dave and I attended Guy Park together I have no problem remembering that he was a good student, a good athlete, a good friend to my brother and nice to kids in the lower grades like me.

After Dave’s class left Guy Park, the only time I’d see him was at sporting events. He had inherited his dad’s athletic genes and he was always active in community and scholastic sports. In fact, he was one of the very few AHS athletes during his era who earned varsity letters in basketball, baseball, football and track. I don’t remember him being a superstar in any of them but he was always steady, always graceful, always hustling.

One of the great side benefits I’ve realized by writing this blog over the past couple of years is getting the opportunity to reconnect with old friends of both my older brothers like Dave. Even though he left Amsterdam many years ago, his parents remained and he stayed in touch with the things happening here and he read my blog. And once in a while, when I’d write about one of Dave’s former teammates or classmates, he’d be kind enough to share his memories about that person with me. One such blog subject was Tim McKnight, who graduated with Stahl in the AHS Class of ’69. After he read the birthday post I wrote about him Tim asked me how I remembered some of the stuff I had included in it. I told him and mentioned Dave Stahl as one of my sources. Timmy immediately said “Dave Stahl is one of my all-time best friends and one of the most interesting and successful people I know. You should write a birthday post about him!” He then proceeded to fill me in on what Stahl has been up to since he left Amsterdam. It truly is an incredible story.

As I wrote up top, Stahl was a smart kid. At AHS, in addition to all those Varsity “A’s” he was the recipient of what I like to refer to as the academic triple crown. He made the National Honor Society earned a Regents Scholarship and received a National Merit Letter of Commendation. He then started college at SUNY Oneonta as a chemistry major but switched to economics and graduated with honors. From there he accepted a fellowship from Union College where he would earn both his MBA and his Ph.D. in Management and Engineering Systems. At that point he had been attending college for ten years and during the last eight of those years he never received a grade below an “A” in any of his courses.

His first full-time job was as an engineer at Mechanical Technology Inc. in Latham building mathematical models. His projects included electric cars, the Stirling engine that was used to power future moon landing crafts, a new generation of wind mills and high-speed centrifuge’s for uranium separation. He then accepted a position with AT&T and moved south to New Jersey. For the next 22 years he held various general management, finance and R&D positions for AT&T, Bell Labs and later Lucent Technologies.

At Bell Labs, Stahl became responsible for technology commercialization. Blue chip companies like AT&T spend huge amounts of money developing new technologies and in the process of doing so usually come up with all sorts of new patentable ways to do things.The real challenge becomes how do we make a profit with this thing or process we’ve discovered or invented. Stahl fell in love with this challenge and has made it his life’s work. At Bell his job became identifying the most promising technologies that were coming out of the company’s lab and getting them to market not just as quickly as possible but also within a business model that optimized profit potential for his company. Often times this meant spinning off or partnering with other companies. During his time in this position with Lucent, Stahl helped create 30 new companies that had a market valuation of right around $2 billion and this Amsterdam kid from Lily Street served on the board of directors for several of them.

Stahl then retired from Lucent and teamed up with the his ex-boss, the former President of Bell Labs to launch a new venture capital fund. They raised money from wealthy individuals, pension funds, technology companies and professional investment firms and invested it in 15 new technology-based start-up companies.  Once again, Stahl served on the board of directors of several of these companies.

Most recently David has formed his own investment company to continue investing in technology start-ups.  They serve as advisors and board members to portfolio companies and often fill-in as interim CEOs of portfolio companies while they search for a permanent CEO.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the companies Stahl has helped bring into existence…

The rest of my birthday post for Dave Stahl will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.

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