Allen H. Alley
Chairman, Pixelworks Inc.
For his pioneering technical and executive vision, and for his contributions as an entrepreneur to the nation’s economic growth
An Inspired Path
Allen Alley has always wanted to know how things worked. “When I was 3, my dad woke me up in the middle of the night and took me outside to see Sputnik as it flew over the house,” he remembers. “After we saw it, we came in to wake up my mother and tell her about it. I remember that we frightened her because she woke up to these two figures dressed in trench coats standing by her bed,” Alley says, laughing.
That early memory stayed with him and inspired him to study mechanical engineering. “The whole event left a big impression on me,” Alley says. “It gave me pause and made me think that engineering might be a good thing to get into.”
After visiting several universities, Alley decided he wanted to come to Purdue. “I just fell in love with the campus as soon as I got there,” he says. “There’s that central core campus of brick buildings that says: this is a university, and this is a great university. I said to myself, ’Okay, this is where I belong.’ ”
Finding New Directions
In a talk on entrepreneurship given at Purdue, Alley described his journey from graduation to founding Pixelworks. “One of the first things I told students was like the disclaimer at the bottom of a television screen: ’This course of study is not recommended. Don’t try this at home,’ ” Alley says with a laugh. “A lot of luck was involved in the process. I knew that engineering was a great foundation, but even while going through college, I had interests in management, so all of my minor electives were in business.”
After graduation, Alley continued a family tradition and joined Ford Motor Company. “My dream job was to work at Ford,” Alley says. “My grandfather worked for Ford in the early 1900s, and my dad had gone to the Ford Motor trade school before getting his mechanical engineering degree.”
After several years at Ford, Alley began looking for a way he could advance his career. He joined Boeing Commercial Airplane Division as lead mechanical engineer for its new 757 program and was soon attracted to entrepreneurship. “Since it was a brand-new program, they were working with some cutting-edge engineering with computer-aided design systems,” says Alley. “While involved with that, I got into some very entrepreneurial things in terms of starting a small company within a company at Boeing. Once the airplane program was over, I was offered a job at Computervision Corporation, which made the computer systems we had used at Boeing. My work at Computervision provided a transition between engineering to product marketing.”
Alley’s multidisciplinary experience, from engineering to marketing, venture capital, and entrepreneurship, all came together when in 1997, Alley and four of his co-workers at InFocus founded Pixelworks. “The entrepreneurial bug was pretty strong then, and we decided to strike out and start a semiconductor company,” he explains. Pixelworks was an immediate success.
A Path to Business and Life
In the lobby of its corporate headquarters stands the PixelStone on which the four founding principles of the company are engraved: create wealth, have fun, build a legacy, and take care of each other. “We decided that we were going to create these four values to last for the next hundred years,” Alley says. “We think of them very holistically, so “create wealth” doesn’t just mean for the five founders to get rich. It means wealth in all the possible definitions of the word: monetary wealth, health, well–being, or just a feeling of goodness.” The principles are written in 14 different languages to remind suppliers, customers, and employees of the international nature of their business and to stress global and geographic diversity.
Alley’s humility and unconventional management style have been fundamental to Pixelworks’ success. As president–a position he resigned in December 2006, retaining chairmanship of the company’s board of directors–he asked every employee to act like an owner and created an environment of unity in the work environment. “I was just another guy at Pixelworks that had a different job than the others do,” Alley explains. “There are no offices at Pixelworks. I sat in a cube like everybody else. There were no assigned parking spots. We all flew coach class.”
Alley’s efforts at creating a team paid off. Today Pixelworks, a leading provider of system-on-chip ICs for the advanced display industry, provides the intelligence for advanced televisions, multimedia projectors, and flat panel monitors.
Alley applies Pixelworks’ four founding principles to his life as well as his career. Not only is Pixelworks known for its extensive charitable work, Alley himself serves on several councils on education. More recently, Alley was appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S.-Japan Private Sector Government Commission to discuss international trade relations. “We have a responsibility to take care of each other as human beings,” Alley says, “whether in business or the community.”
Committed to Oregon’s Future
This past January, Governor Ted Kulongoski of Oregon appointed Alley his deputy chief of staff, responsible for overseeing the policy areas of economic development, technology, transportation, workforce training, and energy. With more than 30 years’ experience in a multitude of disciplines, Alley now works to strengthen the bridge between Oregon’s public and private sectors. “He is someone who has a proven record of leadership, innovation, and a commitment to Oregon’s future,” Kulongoski said at the announcement of Alley’s appointment.
“I have been very fortunate to have some success building global companies,” says Alley. “I am very pleased to be able to use both my business experience and passion for my community to help Oregon be a global business leader.”