William Lowe, who led IBM’s development of personal computers, dies at 72

October 31, 2013

William C. Lowe, an IBM executive who led the team that developed the IBM personal computer in the early 1980s, died Oct. 19 in Lake Forest, Ill. He was 72.

He had a heart attack, his daughter Michelle Marshall said.

Mr. Lowe believed that IBM should develop a PC that could be mass marketed, to expand the company’s reach beyond businesses and into people’s homes. In 1981, the company began selling its IBM 5150 personal computer at a retail price of $1,565, not including a monitor.

Other companies were making PCs as early as the 1970s, leaving IBM behind the curve. Mr. Lowe was lab director at the company’s Boca Raton, Fla., facilities when he convinced his bosses that he could assemble a team to build a personal computer in a year.

Mr. Lowe’s unit was able to develop the IBM PC quickly by adopting open architecture — using parts and software from outside vendors, including Microsoft, which was not well known at the time.

William C. Lowe, then a vice president at IBM, stands next to two of the company’s newest personal computer models at their unveiling in New York in 1987. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Despite his accomplishments, Marshall said, her father did not learn how to use a PC until he left IBM and was working at Xerox.

Mr. Lowe was a native of Easton, Pa., and attended Lafayette College in his home town on a basketball scholarship. He gave up the athletic scholarship, his daughter said, to devote more time to his studies.

Mr. Lowe joined IBM in 1962, when he finished college with a physics degree.

He went on to serve as an IBM vice president and president of its entry systems division, which oversaw the development and manufacturing of IBM’s PCs and other businesses. He left the company in 1988 to work for Xerox, and later became president of Gulfstream Aerospace.

Survivors include his wife, Cristina Lowe; five children; and 10 grandchildren.

— Associated Press

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