Chris Allison

For 16 years — 10 of which as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer — Chris led Tollgrade Communications Inc. from technology startup to public company to being recognized as one of the Best Small Companies In America by Forbes, Fortune, Business 2.0, Bloomberg Personal Finance and Industry Week. In the year 2000, sales of Tollgrade’s centralized telephone test systems reached $114 million. That year, its value on the NASDAQ exchange also reached $2 billion. For his efforts, Chris was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young, as well as by the Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association. Chris was also named CEO Communicator of The Year by the Public Relations Society of America. Chris has been a columnist for Pittsburgh Quarterly since the magazine’s inception in 2006. His column, “To Boldly Go” deals with the subject of innovation. For his writing, he is a two-​time nominee and one-​time winner of the Golden Quill Award by the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania.

A Liberal Approach to Business

Because you study anything and everything at a liberal arts college, you might say that it resembles an episode of Seinfeld, the observational comedy show about nothing. And because nothing really prepares you for a business career, the liberal arts might make the best choice. Late one night in 1992, my father phoned, asking me …

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How My English Degree Helped Build a Tech Company

When I was 26, my dad got sick and asked me to take over as CEO of the tech company he started. I was armed with my English major from Allegheny College and a couple of years in a retail management training program. In other words, I didn’t have a clue. Or so I thought. …

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Hiking Boots & Shamrocks

While most travelers to the west of Ireland enjoy golfing, visiting castles or fishing, my wife and I hit the hiking trails. We rewarded ourselves for all the hoofing by staying in two quaint Irish hotels with great food and above average hospitality. Before leaving, we invested in L.L. Bean hiking gear—boots, pants, socks, rain …

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Billionaire by mistake

Thanks to a computer glitch in our online brokerage account, I knew what it felt like to be Mark Zuckerberg for a glorious few days. Last summer, my wife called to me from her den, “You’ve got to see this!” When I looked at our online brokerage account on her computer screen, the balance showed …

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The Art of the Haberdasher

It’s been almost six months since John Lohr, a salesman from Brooks Brothers, passed away, but I keep thinking about it. I don’t know what shocked me more. Was it that I had purchased a couple of shirts and ties from him the day before he died? Was it that, at 53, he was just …

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Pasteur’s Quadrant

Among scientific researchers, you’re in the zone if you can create something that falls into what is known as Pasteur’s Quadrant. Back when the National Academy of Science was getting organized, its president, Vannevar Bush, developed a methodology for allocating federal funding by classifying research as either basic or applied. Basic research seeks to increase the …

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I, Teacher

Early in Isaac Asimov’s speculative fiction classic “I, Robot,” a little girl named Gloria becomes more attached to a robot named Robbie than to her own parents. Originally wary of Robbie, Gloria’s parents grow to love and respect the tin man after it saves their little munchkin’s life by sweeping her away from the path …

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You’ll Manage – Fall 2009

Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista dreamed of revitalizing sleepy little Bellevue as a means of improving not only the  business at his Bellevue restaurant, Vivo, but the merchants around him on Lincoln Avenue. His dream slowly became a crucible as the forces of easy money and lax lending practices converged against him just when he thought he …

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Gray vs. Green in CEOs

Like everyone, I’ve been watching a lot of Paul Newman movies lately. A couple of his performances made me think about CEOs and how they seem to get better with age. It particularly strikes me when I watch him play two different Eddie Felsons in “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money.” The young Felson …

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Fit vs. Fat vs. Finances

Every saturday, I sit in somber amazement and watch some tattooed, wide-body pile on his body weight in eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy onto a plate fresh out of the warming tray. My favorite part comes when he douses the whole monstrosity in cheese sauce. My incredulity is only matched by my waitress’s when I …

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The Graduate(s)

It seems that every autumn, I start worrying about my kids. My wife and I don’t have children, so “my kids” are my current and former college students. Despite their bright-eyed optimism, I always worry about whether they’ll make it financially after graduation. It’s been an irrational fear because I had never researched the cost …

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You’ll Manage, Summer 2008

Mark Twain referred to golf as “a good walk spoiled.” I think of golf as more of a journey of revelation. It reveals whether you really want to do business with someone as you watch his behavior during a round. Or, as an unknown golfer said, “If there is any larceny in a man, a …

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You’ll manage – Spring 2008

With his slogan, “It’s The Economy, Stupid,” political operative James Carville helped catapult a relatively unknown Arkansas governor into the Oval Office. And just as it was back then, the economy and health care reform are big issues as the 2008 presidential race kicks into high gear. And those same issues will be of particular …

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Image and Reality: When They Don’t Match

There’s a saying in Texas, “He’s all hat and no cattle.” I don’t know why I was thinking about Texas as I flew aboard a US Airways flight bound for Ireland. It’s probably because I had just read Doug Parker’s Letter From The CEO in the in-flight magazine, Attaché. Parker’s obligatory dear-dummy letter was an …

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The Bionic Entrepreneur?

For me, fall marks not only the return of autumn leaves, cider and football, but returning to my role as a college entrepreneurship instructor. Despite this being my third year teaching this subject, I’m still troubled by a gnawing, fundamental question: Can you actually teach someone to be an entrepreneur? Is it a trait you’re …

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Cut Me, Mick!

Right about when I purchased new 36-inch-waist pants and my self-loathing reached a peak, the new Sylvester Stallone film, “Rocky Balboa” opened. As I shaved the morning after seeing the movie, I wore my towel up high to cover my Dunlop’s disease — when your belly done lops over your belt. With a half-lathered face, …

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Get Some Sleep with SOX

For managers of public companies and their shareholders, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has done for business what the Department of Homeland Security has done for air travel. It’s a necessary work in progress that makes us feel more secure. But for frequent fliers, such as CEOs, CFOs and their audit firms, taking your shoes …

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The Life of an Ex-CEO

Leaving a job after 10 or 15 years is more like mourning the loss of a close friend than it is a career change. Think about it. You spend 20 years of your life sleeping, five years going the bathroom and 80 percent of what’s left working. So your job is a big part of …

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Say What?

If you think it’s hard understanding a George Will editorial, you ought to spend time with the technology intelligentsia as they evaluate a prospective investment in a start-up company. Every industry has its own vernacular, but this gang can befuddle the most erudite among us. Show me the money: names for start-up investors In the …

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Whatever Happened to the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit?

In 1955, Sloan Wilson wrote a groundbreaking novel on the trials of working in the 1950s. “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” became a hit film starring Gregory Peck and tells the story of how a young executive works tirelessly in what would become known as the white-collar world. Wilson’s protagonists are Tom and …

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Entrepreneur

Oscar Levant, pianist, composer, actor and native Pittsburgher, once quipped: “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” You don’t need to spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs to realize that many of them have at least smudged the line. For every Willie Loman there are five Willy Wonkas. …

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