EMC cofounder Richard Egan dies

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / August 29, 2009

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Richard J. Egan, the billionaire cofounder of information storage giant EMC Corp. of Hopkinton who served 15 months as ambassador to Ireland, much of that time in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died at his Boston home yesterday.

Mr. Egan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in May, his family said in an e-mailed statement last night that announced his death.

He had also suffered from diabetes, emphysema, and high blood pressure.

“This is a great loss for our family and we are terribly saddened,’’ the statement said. “We ask that the media respect our family’s privacy at this difficult time.’’

The family’s statement included no further details.

The Associated Press reported his age as 73.

Launching the company in 1979 with a partner and only a handful of employees, Mr. Egan helped oversee EMC’s expansion into the state’s largest technology company.

EMC, a global leader in data-storage software and hardware for computers, grew to include sites from Massachusetts to Ireland, and from Colorado to France and Israel.

“The world lost a great man and a great leader today,’’ Joseph Tucci, EMC’s president, CEO, and chairman, said in a statement. “On behalf of more than 40,000 EMC employees from around the world, we extend our deepest condolences to Mrs. Egan and the entire family.

“Thirty years ago this week, Dick founded EMC with his partner, Roger Marino. Dick’s vision became one of the world’s top technology companies, and his legacy will live on through the tens of thousands of lives he affected in so many positive ways.’’

Long active behind the scenes as a prominent Republican fund-raiser and through his donations to schools and other charities, Mr. Egan stepped out of the boardroom and into the spotlight when President George W. Bush appointed him US ambassador to Ireland in March 2001, a few days before St. Patrick’s Day.

“Dick Egan has experienced extraordinary success in the private sector and has a broad-based background,’’ Bush said in a statement announcing the appointment. “He is an ideal person to serve as ambassador to Ireland as we look forward to working even more closely with our Irish friends.’’

Paul Cellucci, the former Massachusetts governor who served as ambassador to Canada, called Mr. Egan a good friend whose support he appreciated.

“Dick Egan served his country with great honor and distinction as ambassador to Ireland,’’ Cellucci said in a statement. “More importantly, he was one of the finest and most entrepreneurial business leaders our state has seen for some time, creating tens of thousands of jobs and helping lead the Commonwealth’s economic recovery in the mid-1990s.’’

In Ireland, Mr. Egan focused on business activity at the time when the country was enjoying robust economic growth.

“The way to bring peace is to create jobs,’’ Mr. Egan told the Globe in an interview at his residence in Ireland in September 2002. “We want to draw investments into the republic and into the north, and we want to increase cross-border trade. I think when people are working, they have less time to focus on the past grievances that have divided them.’’

While some faulted his brash, no-nonsense style, he suggested in the same interview that a softer approach is not always better.

“Maybe I don’t have any compassion,’’ he told the Globe. “Maybe these things I am doing are not altruistic. If you do it for altruistic reasons, it will collapse. To do good just to feel good is no good.’’

He resigned about 15 months into his tenure, later saying he never intended to serve more than two years.

“The job is not unlike a lot of jobs; there are frustrations,’’ he told the Globe in January 2003. “But I wouldn’t pass it up for $1 million.’’

Born in Milton, he grew up in Dorchester and graduated in 1953 from Boston Technical High School.

At 17, he joined the Marine Corps Reserves less than three weeks before the end of the Korean War.

Between the announcement of his appointment as ambassador and Senate confirmation, the Globe sought his military records, which showed he was court-martialed for being absent without leave for a little more than three months after he was assigned to active duty.

Mr. Egan was sentenced to be confined six months and to forfeit his pay for that period.

However, all but one month of the confinement and docked pay were suspended.

And although he was demoted to private, he received an honorable discharge and was recommended for reenlistment.

He never discussed the incident with the Globe, but a White House spokeswoman at the time of his appointment called it a mistake made by an 18-year-old.

“He served his time and learned from his mistakes,’’ she said.

After the war, he went to Northeastern University, graduating in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. The Maureen and Richard J. Egan Engineering and Science Research Center, which opened in 1996, is named for Mr. Egan and his wife.

Subsequently, he did graduate work at MIT and worked on the Apollo guidance system at Draper Laboratories before launching EMC.

He told the publication Mass High Tech in 2002 that he and his partner, Marino, sold office furniture to raise seed money for their venture.

“We didn’t want to become office salesmen,’’ Mr. Egan said, according to Mass High Tech. “But with a 55 percent commission and enough samples to furnish our own office, we didn’t refuse.’’

In a statement last night, Paul T. Dacier, executive vice president and general counsel at EMC, called Mr. Egan “an inspiration to us all.’’

“In a life filled with achievement and service, Dick Egan had a truly profound impact,’’ Dacier said. “He and Maureen raised a wonderful family. He began a company 30 years ago that became one of the world’s most successful technology businesses, supporting tens of thousands of families around the world with great jobs and helping businesses turn their data into valuable information through EMC’s innovation.’’

The family’s statement did not announce plans for a public memorial service. The Associated Press reported that along with his wife, Mr. Egan leaves five children.