Home-grown high tech blooms in Portland

The Peter Principle seems to have done C.N. (Norm) Winningstad some good.

A Californian hired by Oregon's granddaddy high-technology firm, Tektronix, in the late 1950s, he progressed rapidly in the company. But by 1970 it was time for something new.

''I rose to my level of incompetence,'' Mr. Winningstad chuckles. ''(Tektronix) pointed out I should seek another job within the firm. Instead, I decided to prepare myself for a better job. I went back to school for my MBA.''

Today he is chairman and chief executive officer of Floating Point Systems Inc. Last year's sales: some $58 million.

Winningstad's company produces ''superchargers'' that let computers do mathematical calculations very quickly.

''The regular microchip is excellent at editing and filing, but not that good at calculations. It can work with whole numbers, but when the decimal goes whizzing around. . . .'' Hence ''Floating Point,'' as in decimal point.

Attached to a computer, the device lets a person do many types of calculations simultaneously without straining the whole system. Floating Point equipment is used in work that involves arrays of data, such as oil explorations.

Why did Winningstad, a native of California, stay in Oregon when he started his own company?

''Tek treated me well,'' he explains. ''Oregon grew Tek, and they felt they owed Oregon something. I also wanted to use the resources in Oregon - quid pro quo.''

There is an interesting sculpture tucked away on one side of the lobby of the company's headquarters. It's a white column with a quietly whooshing stream of air coming out the top, supporting a small, round . . . floating point!

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