Corning, Inc.’s Peter Bocko, PhD ’79, Explores Technology, Leadership, and Change in Guest Lecture

04/30/2012

Bocko’s entrepreneurial leadership in LCD development helped reinvigorate the company and spur innovation


When Corning Inc.’s Chief Technology Officer – Japan, Peter Bocko, PhD ’79, presented a guest lecture to business and engineering students at Johnson, he shared more than Corning’s exciting story about its growth in the liquid crystal display (LCD) market. He also wove in lessons learned that students can apply to today’s business climate, as well the opportunities and challenges that the leading specialty glass and ceramics company faced, dating back to the 1960s, when its LCD story started.

Innovation, forging close partnerships, and navigating economic ups and downs all shaped Corning’s evolution from a producer of light bulbs, television tubes, and cookware, to ceramic substrates, optical fiber, and LCDs. Corning invented the fusion process in 1959, creating glass that is extraordinarily flat, clean, and well-suited to the requirements of LCDs, which are composed of liquid crystal pushed in the space between two glass plates.

“The success of the LCD platform was far from sure in 1987, when Corning really started investing in it,” Bocko said. “Early on, the LCD business was separated out as an independent business unit, but the business [unit] was still led by a few entrepreneurs [within the company].”

Being one of the innovators who led the LCD charge, Bocko noted the various hurdles he and his colleagues overcame to eventually ensure that Corning’s vision included LCD. They believed that LCD technology could command the entire display space and serve as a growth driver for the company.

“People told me I put my career at risk, and if LCD failed, I was dog food,” Bocko told the audience. “But I was passionate about it, and I believed in it.”

Wesley Sine, Faculty Director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute and associate professor of management and operations, who hosted Bocko, said he views Bocko as a true innovator and thought students should learn about his entrepreneurial story from him directly.

“Peter was the champion for this innovation, and he helped create a vision about its potential and worked for many years selling that vision to senior executives,” said Sine. “It was through his persistence, leadership, technology expertise, and willingness to take risks that he was able to help Corning see that LCDs could and should be a very important part of their future.”

Bocko's entrepreneurial spirit and vision that LCDs would win the long-term competitive innovation race resulted in company-wide benefits for Corning, Sine added.

 “The work of Peter and his team helped reinvigorate the company at a time when some analysts wondered whether or not Corning could survive,” he said. “Their heroic efforts have had a lasting effect on Corning and its current success.”

Bocko and his team were championing LCD as the premiere technology for display-screen makers, while competitor promoted plasma—a technology that ultimately lost.

“It [plasma] was a single purpose display technology – only good for large TVs,” he explained. “LCD can be used for computer monitors, mobile phone screens, TVs, and more.”

Under Bocko’s leadership, Corning faced down Japanese competitors, whose rapid progress in display-screen technologies raised doubts about the long-term viability of Corning’s leadership. Overcoming these and other challenges, Corning was able to proactively drive new glasses into the marketplace. And today, continues to innovate and deliver the unique glass design that display manufacturers require.

After the lecture, Kara Schnoes, MBA ’12, said, “I think one of the things that were most striking to me was [Bocko’s] clear ability to navigate the challenges of a complex organization. He picked his battles, maintained a great sense of humor, and managed to significantly shape the consumer electronics industry, while protecting Corning’s advantage.”

Bianca Borghetti, MBA ’12, who also attended the lecture, appreciated Bocko’s and Corning’s entrepreneurial spirit, saying, “I think this is a great case to illustrate how ‘corporate entrepreneurship’ can lead to innovation and should be fostered in companies. It also demonstrates that inherent to entrepreneurs is courage to take risks, as well as vision to keep on track.” 

--Pamela Woodford

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