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Pinnacle

Avid Technology Founder Bill Warner Has Overcome Obstacles His Entire Life

Aired November 5, 2000 - 7:00 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On your mark, get set, go!

BEVERLY SCHUCH, HOST (voice-over): Bill Warner is challenging himself once again.

BILL WARNER, FOUNDER, AVID TECHNOLOGY: Well, one of the biggest comments I get, people say I'm so proud that you did this or they do look up to people who sort of survive a handicap and move forward. And I think that that's great. But I also think that human nature is that you survive. You deal with what you need to deal with.

SCHUCH: The 45-year-old founder of Avid Technology is at the head of the pack of 50 world team cyclists in a journey from Boston to St. Louis. While biking 1,110 miles is grueling for anyone, for Bill Warner it's even tougher. More than 25 years ago, a car accident cost him the use of his legs. Coincidentally, it happened in St. Louis.

UNIDENTIFIED CYCLIST: How you feeling, Bill?

WARNER: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED CYCLIST: Good.

SCHUCH: Overcoming obstacles with tenacity and imagination has been the driving theme of Bill Warner's life, whether it's a personal journey or a professional endeavor.

WARNER: I started doing video and then I sort of hit the editing wall square on where I was making videos and it was just so hard to edit the video.

SCHUCH: Sixteen years ago, his frustration with editing videotape led him to invent a computerized system that single-handedly revolutionized editing.

WARNER: I can pull that sound over, I can move the picture over, I can use a different shot in that scene and you can all do it interactively basically in real time.

SCHUCH: He named it Avid and today it's used in the television, commercial and film industries. Avid Technology is nearly a half billion dollar company that's the industry's standard.

WARNER: Well, the advantage of Avid was that once you had everything digital on the machine, you can edit at an incredible rate. It's 10 to 100 times faster...

SCHUCH (on camera): Speed?

WARNER: ... to edit. And creativity. So much better creativity because you can try things any which way you want and, you know, if you look at "Titanic," James Cameron, he edited that movie himself on an Avid at his house.

SCHUCH: "Titanic," he edited himself?

WARNER: Yes. Yes.

SCHUCH: That sounds like a titanic effort to me.

WARNER: It was a titanic effort. He won the Oscar for editing. When he said, "I am on top of the world" and held up the Oscar, that was the editing Oscar.

SCHUCH: And what did you think? What did you feel?

WARNER: I thought this is great. I was on top of the world, too.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Bill Warner and Avid have also won an Oscar for technical achievement, one of the very few ever awarded by the motion picture industry.

(on camera): Did you sleep with it the first night?

WARNER: It had a lot of partners that night. Everybody in the company wanted to hold it and talk, you know, talk about it and feel it. It was a very exciting evening.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Warner's invention has also won television Emmy awards and changed the way TV is produced.

(on camera): How many television shows now are edited with Avid?

WARNER: In Hollywood, over 100 Hollywood shows use Avid.

SCHUCH (voice-over): For most people, one successful company would be enough in a lifetime. But not for Bill Warner. With Avid quickly catching on in the media world, he went on to design an electronic voice-based assistant for telephones called Wildfire.

WARNER: It's me, Wildfire.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: What's the pass code? Oh, hi.

WARNER: The way Wildfire works is that you tell Wildfire where you can be reached, your cell phone, your car phone, at home, at work and so forth, and Wildfire will try you there. SCHUCH: To understand Bill Warner and his incredible success, you have to appreciate the path he's traveled. Inventor and found of Avid Technology, Bill Warner, is next on PINNACLE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHUCH (voice-over): Last May, Bill Warner and World Team Sports made a soul searching cross country journey called Faces of America. World Team is an innovative sports charity that provides opportunities for people, especially those with disabilities. Past World Team events have included biking across the Gobi Desert and circumnavigating the globe. This year, two bike teams started from opposite ends of the country and met under the St. Louis arch. For Bill Warner, it is the first time back to St. Louis since his accident.

WARNER: It's going to be the hottest day we've had.

SCHUCH (on camera): What were you feeling?

WARNER: I'd say one of the biggest emotions was crossing the Mississippi. We, after all of us riding, we get on this bridge crossing the Mississippi and there's St. Louis in the distance, in the arch, looking small, and we're going across this bridge, it's the Route 66 road bridge that's been shut down and it's only for pedestrians and cyclists.

It was what I wanted to do, which was to come back under human power to St. Louis, where I got hurt, and it was a great journey.

SCHUCH: Is this what they call closure, then?

WARNER: Closure, well, it was -- I guess I'm not, I don't believe in closure because I think that nothing in your life ever closes. What I believe is that there's, it's connected. It's connecting with your past in a way that's very real and both mental and physical and somehow riding that bike there was a whole different story than taking a plane and going back to St. Louis.

SCHUCH: Was there a victorious sense, like yes, you know, I did it?

WARNER: Well, it was, I felt that sense when we crossed the Mississippi. And when we actually got into St. Louis, then I knew I had more work to do. My journey is not done.

SCHUCH: So did you take private time away, then to do it?

WARNER: Yeah, after the ride I went and did that. To me, St. Louis is about having my freshman year of school there and that, it was out, it surprised me how much that was what came to my mind. But those are the richer memories. Getting hurt is an instant and that's sort of a dividing line between two parts of your life and that's really an instant. So what the real rich memories were about St. Louis and school and the city.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Bill Warner was a freshman at Washington University in 1974 when a car accident damaged his spinal cord and left him without full use of his legs. His life changed in a heartbeat.

(on camera): This happened at an age when, you know, most people think they're immortal and then they question will I ever, you know, have a family, have a wife, have all -- you must have gone through all that.

WARNER: I went through all that. That was horrible. That was, that was really tough. And, you know, the thing that's interesting is people go through things and they almost, they need to see examples of how it's worked out because the reality is is that it works out. It works out for like pretty much almost everyone. It's like OK, you get hurt so, OK, so you get to mope for the rest of your life? You know, what is -- is that really a choice? Is that, I think that people who are a certain way, that's just not a choice, you know? Maybe there'll be a time where you feel bad and you feel sad and I did go through that.

I felt angry. I mean I really did. I remember at the rehab hospital just smashing cardboard boxes and it was very therapeutic. I recommend it to anyone who's angry is go get a good cardboard box and beat the hell out of it. You know, I think life is about very big choices and they're very clear, you know? So you have to, when you're faced with some challenge, you have to rise to it and a lot of what people are saying when they say oh, I admire what you've done, is they say I fear I wouldn't be able to do it myself.

Not true. You would. He would, they would, people do. The fact is is that most people, when they are faced with a challenge, rise to it rather than crumble. I wouldn't have done something like this on television 10 years ago or even five years ago. I always felt embarrassed how I look walking. I still don't like it, but I'm willing for people to see it.

I was at my son's day camp and I was standing there and, you know, kids always sort of blurt out stuff and, you know, it's fine. You know, it's the mother's reactions that is the more painful, you know? And this one kid said, "He can't walk." And I turned to him and I said, "I can walk. It's just that I don't walk like everybody else walks."

SCHUCH: So is there a lesson from all this? This is beautiful.

WARNER: Well, I think the lesson is to embrace your life, to embrace your life, what happens to you, where it takes you and not to fight it.

SCHUCH (voice-over): PINNACLE returns in a moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHUCH: What do you consider yourself, an entrepreneur, businessman, an inventor, what?

WARNER: I think of myself as an entrepreneur. I think entrepreneurs are people who see a need, see an opportunity and somehow put together all the pieces that are needed to make it happen, and that's what I do. That's what I love doing.

SCHUCH: Bill Warner has been an entrepreneur since he was 16, growing up in Millburn, New Jersey. He started his own photography business, taking photos for people and developing them in a makeshift darkroom in his parents' basement.

(on camera): Your ideas and your inspirations obviously came out of personal experience.

WARNER: Right. They all did.

SCHUCH: They all did?

WARNER: Yeah.

SCHUCH: And the first one was, came out of tragedy, really, didn't it?

WARNER: Oh, yeah, the whistle system. I was 18 and really overnight my life changed from before that I could walk and after that I couldn't. I was in a room with four people that were injured, all of them much more severely than me, and one of them was a quadriplegic. He would get the nurse to prop up a phone on his chin and he'd call his girlfriend. And then at the end of the call he'd be telling the operator, no, I'm done, and she'd be saying hang up the phone. He said I can't hang up the phone. And when I got out of the rehab center, actually, even while I was in there I started working on, I used one of these little whistle systems where you can blow a whistle and turn on and off a light.

I remember one time I took one of these machines, I put it on the dining room table. My parents had this beautiful like wood dining room table. And I put it on and I said watch this. And I whistled the whistle, the little plastic whistle, and the thing started clicking. So I had plugged a light into it, click, click, click, whistled the choice, you know, and boom! The lights went out, smoke.

SCHUCH: And your parents said what?

WARNER: Right. And it was one of those classic back to the drawing board things.

SCHUCH (voice-over): In 1978, Warner moved his drawing board to the campus of MIT, where he studied electrical engineering. He likes inventing things for problems he comes across. Before his accident, he used to enjoy biking. So after the accident, he designed a hand cycle.

WARNER: There were a bunch of changes that I thought were needed, the wider range gearing and, oh, things like being able to take it apart easily so you could ship it.

SCHUCH: By 1980, he started a company with his invention, New England Hand Cycles. It made and sold hand bikes for nearly 10 years. After college, he worked for Apollo Computers. When the company needed a corporate video, the old photographer in Warner stepped forward. He soon learned the world of videotape was far from perfect.

WARNER: I started to see the problems with editing and I assumed that computerized editors were out there. So I marched downtown to an editing company and I went in there and I said train me on your computerized editor. I want to use this thing. And they said well, you hit P for play and R is rewind and space bar stops the tape decks. And I said tape decks? I mean this is a computerized editor. Can't I just do things interactively? They looked at me like from what planet are you from? And it occurred to me, and this was 1984, it occurred to me this thing hasn't been invented yet.

SCHUCH: Three years later, Bill Warner invented it. Working out of a small warehouse just outside of Boston, he figured out a way to store video and audio onto a hard drive of a computer.

(on camera): But I can see you still have fond memories from that time.

WARNER: Oh, yeah, I do.

SCHUCH (voice-over): That allowed an editor to manipulate the footage in a new interactive way. It was the beginning of Avid Technology.

(on camera): That was the year the stock market crashed, as I recall. Was that a bit daunting to start a company?

WARNER: It was. Actually, I started the company in September of 1987. I got going and then in November of 1987 boom, the stock market fell apart, Black Monday, 500 point fall in the Dow and people said to me, they said, they said oh, now you'll never raise money. And I said I just need one -- I am just one person who needs money. I need $500,000. It's still out there. I'll get it.

SCHUCH (voice-over): And he did when he took his Avid Technology to the National Broadcasters Annual Trade Show. He found the response to his invention overwhelming.

(on camera): You had only the prototype then?

WARNER: That's right. They, people wanted to be the first in the country to have this.

Are you still coding?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. WARNER: Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I designed the code crashing systems.

WARNER: You did?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

WARNER: Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Asix (ph), you know, wrote a lot of the code.

WARNER: What, you did the Asix?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I helped them with their algorithms.

WARNER: Yeah?

SCHUCH (voice-over): A little more than a decade later, almost everyone in the industry does have an Avid. The technology is a staple when it comes to editing commercials, television shows and feature films. The movie "The Matrix" won four Oscars with the help of Avid.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: This can't be.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Be what? Be real?

SCHUCH: Avid has grown to a nearly half billion dollar business. At the time it went public in 1993, Bill's stake was worth $18 million. Since then, he's gone in a different direction.

WARNER: Fifty to 100 people is about what I can deal with and once you start to get over 100 people, it's getting to be a sizable company. Management style and issues tend to be the biggest issues and I'm an entrepreneur. I like to figure out that there is a market for something, build it, bring it to market and then hire people who know how to grow the company.

SCHUCH: Bill Warner gets back to what he's best at, connecting solutions to problems.

WARNER: Wildfire.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Here I am.

SCHUCH: The inventor genius, when PINNACLE continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHUCH (voice-over): In 1991, Bill Warner decided it might be time to change his cell phone habits. The result was his newest invention, Wildfire.

(on camera): How did you get the idea for doing this?

WARNER: For Wildfire?

SCHUCH: Yeah, the necessity.

WARNER: Oh, right. Well, it was a necessity. I was at Avid and Avid was growing. We had more people. And I kept getting stacks of pink slips of calls that I wasn't returning and I thought, OK, I'll get a car phone. And that way when I get in the car, I'll return all those phone calls.

And so I got the car phone. It worked perfectly. And I started returning all these calls and I realized a few things. Number one, I make the call and never get anybody. You just get voice mail. And number two, my life span was going to be inversely proportional to how many times I dialed that phone because dialing the phone while you're driving is not a good idea.

Call.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Call whom?

WARNER: Mom and dad.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Mom and dad.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: At which place?

WARNER: Home.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Dialing.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Wildfire's a phone system with an electronic personal assistant that screens and forwards your calls, organizes your phone messages and keeps in touch with far flung relatives.

LYNN WARNER: When I see anybody connected with film I walk up to them and I say do you happen to use the Avid editing system? And they say oh, yes, of course we do. And I say well my son invented it and founded the company.

SCHUCH: And Wildfire has a sense of humor.

WARNER: Do me a favor.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: What kind of favor?

WARNER: I'm depressed.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: You're depressed? I live in a box.

SCHUCH: With Wildfire up and running but in need of management and cash flow, Warner and partners sold to Orange Communications. Orange is a British telecommunications firm that was recently bought by France Telecom, making Wildfire a property that's living up to its name.

WARNER: I've got you on and I've got mom in California.

LYNN WARNER: Oh, you do. Hello, mom.

ELISSA WARNER: Hi, Elissa.

SCHUCH: Besides helping make him a multi-millionaire, the phone is how Bill Warner met his second wife, Elissa.

ELISSA WARNER: I was trying to do a startup. This was back in '92. And we just had a great time talking about some of my toy inventions and the fact that he got so excited about a lot of my ideas and wanted to help me do them just made me really admire and respect him.

SCHUCH (on camera): Now, was having a family something you always wanted to do?

WARNER: Absolutely, yeah.

SCHUCH: Did you know that you could?

WARNER: No. Well, I, you know, I had test data to show that I could but, you know, I think that we have families when god is willing that we have families, you know? It's not test data.

SCHUCH: How has that changed your life?

WARNER: Oh, you know, having a child, I think, is one of those dividing lines where there's before the child and there's after the child and you always hear these cliches, and I always get annoyed by cliches like it'll change your life. But very often it's like they have those cliches because there's really nothing that can describe it.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Bill Warner is more than a father, inventor and entrepreneur. Occasionally he's a mentor. Warner tutors up and coming entrepreneurs on how to make that all important pitch to possible investors. He's trying to connect brilliant ideas with cash resources.

WARNER: Do it again and tell me something in there that's going to make me want to invest.

SCHUCH: Today, he's at the Massachusetts Software Council coaching a standing room of hopeful entrepreneurs. Each one gets 30 seconds to sell their idea.

UNIDENTIFIED ENTREPRENEUR: Twenty years ago my brother and I went searching for gold in Alaska and we found it. Last fall, I went searching for a Web site for regular guys and I couldn't find it. All I found was a lot of sex and porn targeting men. So I decided to build this site for regular guys. There are 58 million of them with an online purchasing power of $15 billion.

WARNER: Time. Did you actually find gold in Alaska?

UNIDENTIFIED ENTREPRENEUR: You have to come to my 10 minute session and find that out.

WARNER: Well, OK, then you might...

One of the things I do when I'm teaching entrepreneurs is I say you have to follow your passion. You have to follow what really matters to you. Money comes not from logic. Money comes when people see there's some connection of like they can see that you're doing something that really means something and then they see this other stuff that makes sense to them, that allows them to go with their gut. If the gut feeling is not there, forget about all the other stuff.

SCHUCH: With his 1,100 mile trek to St. Louis behind him and two companies running smoothly on their own, Warner applies his considerable talents to new ventures.

WARNER: That's Hanover Street. It got hit right with the highway there, but it used to come all the way through. I can make this 1890s thing transparent. Now you can see Hanover Street where it came. And City Hall Plaza is right here and this is Sculley Square (ph).

SCHUCH: And that brings him to Boston's big dig, the $14 billion project to rebuild the city's infrastructure. Warner now devotes his time to a Web site that he has created called Future Boston.

WARNER: I'm just following my passion. I love development of the city. I love building and construction. I'm going to start doing things that help bring people together who are doing it. I'm going to find entrepreneurial people who are going to make great things happen and then help them. And I'm going to have fun doing it.

SCHUCH (on camera): It's all about connecting?

WARNER: Yeah, it is. That's what I love.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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