The Control Data Institute concept fit with Norris’ larger strategy for pairing business opportunities and company advancement with opportunities to uplift and educate society. He was a true pioneer in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). At CDC this took many forms that included CDI, acquiring and investing heavily in PLATO educational computing and software, and locating manufacturing plants in depressed inner city neighborhoods, such as in North Minneapolis. It also included hiring people who had fewer opportunities to work in the computer industry like racial/ethnic minorities, those with less education, and individuals with prison records. While often successful on both social and business fronts, some programs had mixed results and others were difficult to fully assess. Nonetheless, Norris remained deeply committed to CSR and it became a proud signature to CDC along with its path breaking supercomputers and its thriving IT services business.
Norris thought doing good was good business.
While Control Data Corporation thrived in the 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s provided increasing challenges, particularly late in the decade. These challenges were tied, in part, to the rise of personal computing, which was quite disruptive for many mainframe computer firms. Unfortunately, CDC’s peripherals and services businesses were also heavily tied to its mainframe and mid-range computers, and the company failed to transition quickly to the new realities brought on by personal computers. Additionally, although CDC’s investment in a financial arm, via Commercial Credit, had served them well for a number of years, this diversification paired with changing markets led to a liquidity crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The crisis resulted in the dismantling of CDC – the company was reformed as two separate businesses: Ceridian and Control Data System, Inc. At the same time that Control Data Corporation was restructuring, IBM went through a massive reorganization. They ultimately re-oriented to focus primarily on software and services. However, IBM had more resources than CDC and could withstand more losses than CDC, so they made it through the transition intact.
Ultimately, Control Data Corporation’s spinoff, Control Data Systems, did not survive. Ceridian, on the other hand, continued to thrive and as of 2018 has its U.S. headquarters in Bloomington, Minnesota. While CDC no longer exists, and Ceridian’s place in IT services is modest compared to CDC’s role in IT services in the 1970s and early 1980s, the company nonetheless left a major mark on the Twin Cities and Minnesota. With CDC, Minneapolis arguably went from being the Mill City to a high tech city. CDC had an influence on boosting venture capital infrastructure in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and many highly talented information technology workers formerly at CDC found roles at other companies locally, including Lawson Software in St. Paul, Seagate Technologies’ Minnesota operations, and as IT workers at headquarters of various corporate giants, including 3M, Target, Best Buy, and SuperValu, Inc. With the latter three box retailers, top notch IT and logistics is absolutely critical to success and Minnesota IT workers have contributed strongly. If we look at Minnesota’s IT industry only in terms firms headquartered here, it is greatly diminished from earlier decades. However, the Twin Cities have many diverse IT workers and a range of high tech industries, especially medical devices. They have greatly benefited from the legacies of ERA, Control Data Corporation, Honeywell Corporation, and Cray Research.