Accidental Engineer

by Eric Minton

The Steve Alcorn dossier:

1956 - Born in Los Angeles, son of an aerospace engineer father and a mother who worked as a secretary for aerospace firms. "My mother always told me never to become an engineer."

1968 - Enters Harvard School in Los Angeles. When he took an electronics class he designed a mixing board. "I learned how to design and how not to design audio circuits." He applied this knowledge to his own rock band. "We turned a guest bedroom into a studio and ended up buying Kate Smith's eight-track recorder, something between the size of a refrigerator and Mount Rushmore. We laid down a bunch of original songs."

1973-78 - Enters UCLA majoring in economics because that program had only nine required courses with the rest electives. In one lecture he watched an economics professor mislabel the x and y axes and spend the next 45 minutes trying to figure out why his equations didn't work. "I decided then not to be an economist."

1974 - Serving as a dance instructor at the Beverly Hills Cotillion, Alcorn met his future wife, Linda McBride (there's a clue for you about the origins of the name "Alcorn McBride"). Later, when she entered the UCLA School of Engineering, Alcorn transferred. "I became an engineer by accident."

1977 - Alcorn's engineering career started with Hughes Aircraft, as a Master's Fellow. While there he started his own company making computers in the days before PCs. "I learned a lot of things about business by going out of business."

1982 - Steve makes his second significant Linda-inspired career turn. From the time she was a third grader she wanted to design rides for Disneyland. Upon graduation she applied for only one job, as an Imagineer. Two years later she was electronics project engineer on seven pavilions at the under-construction Epcot in Orlando. Looking for an exit strategy from his business, Alcorn decided to apply to the Epcot project as a consulting engineer. "I was sent on a two-week business trip that lasted two years."

1984 - After Epcot, Alcorn became Director of Engineering at Cambrian Systems, where he managed 40 engineers. Several of them followed him from Disney. "In that job I learned a lot about financial management. At Disney, money wasn't a factor, it was get the ride open."

1985 - He became Vice President of Engineering for Lynn Electronics, owned by Roger Lynn, former lead guitarist in Leon Russell's band and inventor of the digital drum machine. "My first love was music," Alcorn says. His first day on the job the firm released a new product, the Lynn9000. "It had one serious flaw," Alcorn says; "and that was, it didn't work." Again, several of his former cohorts from Disney joined him and they spent a year reengineering the device and fixing its problems, but by then the machine's bad reputation had sunk the company.

1986 - Alcorn founds Alcorn McBride. "After two companies in quick succession, I decided to start my own." Joined by many of his former engineers, Alcorn soon returned to the themed entertainment industry.

2004 - Alcorn is still president of Alcorn McBride, Inc. He still loves music and makes his own albums. "I have a keyboard that replaced all of what my band used to do, plus serves as a recorder." He also writes novels, is learning sculpture with his 13-year-old daughter, collects antique wines and serves as a wine tasting judge. "People think it's all fun, but you try spending a whole morning tasting merlots."



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