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Ex-Brakeman Jasper's Big Break at Dolby

Although the technical victories at Dolby Labs hinge on the creativity and vision of founder and Chairman Ray Dolby, many of the business victories won by President and CEO Bill Jasper have allowed the company to grow from about $5 million in revenues in 1979 to more than $200 million in revenues today.

Jasper decided to apply for the CFO position at Dolby in 1979 after seeing a want ad in the Wall Street Journal. He was working in San Francisco at the time, only two doors down the block from Dolby headquarters. With the issue of a longer commute a non-factor and the opportunity to join a company primed to explode, the decision was not difficult.

At first glance, it would seem that a passion for audio engineering would be a necessary ingredient in Jasper's rise. Instead, it has been his steady hand on the business side that has been most valuable. And while Jasper didn't share Dolby's passion for engineering, he did share his passion for the clarinet, common ground that Jasper believes help land him the job.

"I definitely think that was one of the things that attracted him to me," says Jasper.

Having joined as CFO, Jasper became president in 1983, replacing Dolby, who wanted to dedicate more time to the development of the Dolby SR noise-reduction system and less on the business details.

The company's noise-reduction technologies were a de facto standard on nearly every audiocassette sold, but Type C, introduced in 1981, was ready for the next step. Dolby needed someone to take over his corporate duties while he focused his energies. Jasper was the person for the job.

"My responsibility was to keep things on an even keel and take us forward," says Jasper. "When I first took over, we didn't really have a budgeting process, and I bought the company's first computer. I just made sure we had the processes and people in place to continue to grow."

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jasper received a BS in industrial engineering from Stanford University and an MBA in finance from the University of California, Berkeley.

The key to both degrees was his work for the Southern Pacific railroad. He spent his college summers working as a brakeman, traveling across the Southwest, primarily in New Mexico and Arizona.

"It was a great summer job to finance my Stanford education," according to Jasper. "I don't know how many miles I traveled, but it was sure good pay."

The railroad offered to pay for his MBA as part of its management-development program. "I was basically paid a salary and expenses for two years to go to grad school."

He went to work for Southern Pacific at its bureau of transportation research and the treasury department. After a few years, though, he realized the railroad wasn't where he wanted to spend his lifelong days, and he detoured into public accounting before settling in at Dolby.

"I knew the name and had heard of Dolby noise reduction, but the company hadn't really taken off yet," he says of his early days at the company.

"We weren't yet in the movie industry in a huge way, although Star Wars
had come out 18 months before and we were starting to get some recognition."

Jasper doesn't classify himself as an audiophile, but he still plays the clarinet in two local bands: Contra Costa Wind Symphony and the Bohemian Club band.

"Both play pretty much light classical, show tunes, marches and traditional concert-band-type music," he says. "I can't say that the interest helps in the day-to-day job, but it has been an asset with Dolby."

That seems to go for nearly every Dolby employee. "It's surprising the number of people in Dolby who have some sort of musical or entertainment background," Jasper says. "Out of the 600 people, the vast majority of them have done something in music, whether it's being a drummer, guitarist or singer. It sure helps."