For Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, life's defining moment came when, as a teen-ager, he started working a primitive computer at the private school he attended.
For Baltimore native Frank Moss, another fortyish computer tycoon, youthful inspiration spoke with a different voice. It had bad legs, frequented Memorial Stadium and wore a blue and white jersey with No. 19.
"Johnny Unitas was a role model for us all," remembers Mr. Moss. "One of the formative events was the championship game of '58, when the Colts and Unitas came from behind to go into overtime and beat the Giants. That probably had more to do with our view of the world than anything else. That told us anything could be done."
In Mr. Moss' life, "anything" would eventually include building Tivoli Systems Inc., an obscure Texas software company, into a $50 million bantamweight, taking it public and selling it to IBM for $743 million.
The Tivoli-IBM deal, announced earlier this month, pushes Mr. Moss into the spotlight, gives him a lucrative payoff and a new job as general manager of IBM's worldwide systems-management software business. Not bad for a kid from Pikesville.
"The guy is a star," said Jack Luskin, who runs a local appliances and electronics chain and is friends with Mr. Moss and his parents, Sam and Rose Moss of Pikesville.
"Here's a kid from Baltimore. His mother and father were not wealthy and he built this company and took it public."
Tivoli, which makes software that lets computer operators manage diverse networks of mainframes, personal computers or workstations, is the latest acquisition in a rapidly converging industry. Last year IBM bought Lotus Development Corp., a Boston-based software company.
Mr. Moss' staff will jump from about 300 to 1,300. Tivoli, which was founded in 1989, will continue to operate in Austin, Texas, and Mr. Moss is still based there.
Industry analysts expect IBM to help Tivoli push its share of the multibillion-dollar systems management software business well above its present 16 percent.
"As more and more customers exploit powerful computer networks for competitive advantage, the need for systems management products to operate and maintain these networks becomes critical," IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner Jr. said the day the deal was announced.
Tivoli's products help computer pros manage workplace systems of hundreds or thousands of computers made by different manufacturers and using different operating languages.
Demand for such capability is high because most companies haven't planned computer purchases very well, analysts say. Different divisions buy different hardware systems, and now managers want to tie them together without scrapping everything and starting over.
Tivoli's software might help computer managers send new software programs to the right places throughout the network, for example.
Or a Tivoli program could help to flag problems and report them to a systems administrator's terminal. Other functions coordinate user access," letting people use the same password on different systems or logging onto several systems all at once.
Mr. Moss, 46, didn't join Tivoli until 1991, two years after it was founded. But company executives and analysts credit his energy and salesmanship for much of Tivoli's success.
"He's demanding, but that's a good thing, because he's gotten a lot of results out of the team," said Mark McClain, Tivoli's product marketing manager. "Frank is an incredibly effective evangelist and motivator. He can sell you on this wonderful concept and convince you that you can't live without it."
Salesmanship is a skill that Mr. Moss inherited. He calls his
father, Sam Moss, "probably one of the best salesmen in the game" as well as "one of the best storytellers in Baltimore, if not the East Coast."
Sam Moss worked in the apparel and appliance businesses and also ran Moss Construction, a home construction and home improvement firm. He's well known in the Baltimore area for his vTC radio show of Jewish humor and culture.
Frank Moss went to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute for high school and from there to Princeton and MIT, getting degrees in aerospace engineering. Once he wanted to be an astronaut, and he interned at NASA's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt during the summer of the first moon landing.
But he ended up working for IBM, first in Israel and then in New York, in product research.
Mr. Moss' lab was getting interested in computer networks and IBM's brass -- this was the early 1980s -- was still dedicated to stand-alone mainframes.
"We were working on trying to hook PCs together," said Mr. Moss, who keeps Unitas memorabilia in his office and home. "That was definitely heresy. I think maybe I went up against a few folks. I wouldn't necessarily say I created enemies, but people knew I told it the way it was."
Not surprisingly, he left IBM. First he worked for workstation makers Apollo Computer and Stellar Computer. Then he landed at Lotus and become good friends with its chief, Jim Manzi.
But he wanted to run a company. The chance came in 1991, when Tivoli needed a new chief executive.
The outfit grew quickly, gaining a name by making its software work with almost any setup of hardware and operating software. Its chief rival was and is Computer Associates International, which recently bought Northern-Virginia-based Legent Corp. for $1.8 billion.
Tivoli's public stock offering a year ago was a huge success. The shares were offered at $14 and closed on the first day of trading at $30.50. IBM's price, which at 15 times revenue many consider to be very dear, is $47.50 a share.
Tivoli now has $50 million in annual sales.
Mr. Moss said he plans to stay with IBM for a long time. His friend Mr. Manzi left shortly after IBM bought Lotus in an initially hostile takeover. But he thinks that IBM's culture is not as sclerotic as it used to be.
"One can never predict the future, but IBM's merger with Tivoli was a friendly one," Mr. Moss said. "The merger with IBM for us is a strategic move to carry Tivoli forward. My goal, working with IBM, is to own a good share of that market."
Don't bet against a man who models himself on No. 19.
"I'm still a Baltimore boy. Very proud of it," Mr. Moss said. "When the Colts got on the map in the late '50s, it told us all you could do it.
"You could play with the big boys as long as you were willing to take some risks."