In Memory of a Tech Industry Pioneer

Bard Richmond, cofounder of Active Voice, dies at 67.

Bard Richmond, cofounder and CEO of Active Voice and recognized philanthropist, died recently at the age of 67. His life’s work as a technological innovator and business leader impacted the global telecom industry and demonstrated that fundamental communication tools could help the homeless.

With fellow MIT alum Robert "Bob" Greco, Bard launched Active Voice Corporation in 1983 with the idea that a standard PC could be a powerful voice messaging system for small businesses. At the time (before the internet and cell phones), voice messaging systems emerged as a productivity tool for executives but, given the cost, only the largest companies could afford them. Bard and the team at Active Voice turned a personal computer into a voice messaging platform that was affordable to any organization.

With Bard as CEO, Active Voice grew quickly through the 1980s. When it went public in December 1993, it was ranked #17 on Inc. magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S.. The company was recognized by both Business Week and Forbes magazine as one of the Best Small Companies in America and, in 1994, Bard was named Northwest Software Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine, Merrill Lynch and Ernst & Young. 

As Active Voice grew, it put its sights on the next generation of internet protocol (IP) telephone systems that were soon to hit the market. The company doubled downed on R&D investments to create a next-generation unified communication system called Unity. The industry’s largest telephone system manufacturers, including Siemens, Alcatel, NEC and Phillips, all took the system to market. In 1999, Cisco acquired Active Voice for $300M and integrated the Unity system into its IP-telephony offering. The Active Voice engineering team became the basis for Cisco’s first engineering office in Seattle that operates to this day.

With the same focus and skill of innovation, Bard saw an opportunity to give voice messaging capability to the homeless, enabling them to stay connected with friends and family, and to find jobs, housing, and medical care. Bard helped start a non-profit called Community Voice Mail (later called Springwire) and in its 20-year history, the organization contributed voicemail systems to social service agencies across the country, helping more than 500,000 homeless people find jobs and housing. For developing Community Voice Mail, Bard received the prestigious Point of Light award from President Bill Clinton for “outstanding effort and commitment to bettering the lives of tens of thousands of poor and homeless.” Bard was the first corporate executive to win the award.

Bard will be remembered as a kind and intelligent friend with an insatiable curiosity. And for those us who were fortunate enough to work with him we will remember the integrity, compassion and fun he brought to the role as CEO of Active Voice.

What other Seattle company put a slide between two floors of a commercial building?

Bard is survived by his sons, Eli, Max and Owen Richmond; his wife, Julie Richmond, and his sister, Wendy Richmond. A celebration of his life will be held in 2018.

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