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Mike Hockenberry Plans to Build on Compunetix's Long and Amazing Legacy

Jonathan Kersting, Pittsburgh Technology Council

Mike Hockenberry, CompunetixMike Hockenberry’s love of Compunetix runs deep and, for him, taking over leadership of the company is more than a job. He recognizes the responsibility to ensure the legacy of Founder Dr. Giorgio Coraluppi marches the company forward another 50 years and beyond.

Hockenberry’s got the cool, calm demeanor of an engineer who’s honed his business chops over the decades. Now he has the weight of leading one of Pittsburgh’s top technology, communications and hardware companies after its founder and only president passed away. 

It’s still hard for me not to get a little emotional thinking back to September 2022, when Coraluppi (Dr. C.) passed away. For Hockenberry, a 36-year veteran of the company who was then leading its Federal Division, it’s a day he will never forget.

It took the Compunetix Board of Directors three months to officially elect Hockenberry as the new President. And now that he’s been “on the job” for more than a year, I wanted to learn more about him, how it felt to take over as President and ask about the challenges and opportunities at hand. 

Heck, I even wanted to know what he does in his “spare” time. Even before taking his new post, Hockenberry’s work week was stacked with 12-hour days and all-nighters to meet project deadlines. But he’s quite keen to reveal that spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren are always a priority. Every year he looks forward to hitting the beach with them for much-needed R&R. However, the engineer in him cannot be contained. 

“Put me in front of a lot of sand, and I’m going to build something big!” he exclaimed. He pulled up photos on his phone of meticulously crafted castles, pyramids and other sculptures to prove it. Impressive! Hockenberry is also known to twist the throttle on his Suzuki sportbike now and then. So be mindful of any motorcycles zipping down Mosside Boulevard.

It was a bit apropos that I interviewed him in the boardroom where I first interviewed Dr. C. more than 20 years ago at the company headquarters on Mosside Boulevard. If you don’t know Compunetix, it specializes in state-of-the-art multimedia collaboration and telecommunications systems for audio conferencing, videoconferencing and mission-oriented applications. It provides sophisticated electronics manufacturing, design, engineering and professional services in support of these solutions, too. Customers range from Axion Space to NASA to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

When asked about Dr. C.’s passing, Hockenberry expressed his deep sense of loss, likening it to “losing a father” and emphasizing Dr. C.’s impact on him over their 36 years of working together. Hockenberry said Dr. C.’s principles and ethics were instrumental to his own growth within the company, describing a man who imparted wisdom and vision to those around him.

“Everybody had a unique relationship with Dr. Coraluppi,” said Hockenberry. “Mine was very respectful; I viewed him as somewhat of a father figure. So to me, he was always Dr. C. He recognized that we’re not here forever. One of my favorites of his sayings was: ‘We’re like a plant. And so, the day that I’m not around, I know that everyone else will be like these plants and they will move towards the sunshine.’”

Planting His Compunetix Roots

Dr. Giorgio Coraluppi and Mike Hockenberry had a nearly four-decades-long business relationship building Compunetix.Hockenberry recounted his early days at Compunetix, joining the company as only his second job out of college. He described being drawn to the company’s unique projects and the shared enthusiasm of the employees, as well as their willingness to mentor and share knowledge. 

“I knew they had this contract with NASA and were looking for somebody with my unique background of analog circuit design. I was hired as, what today we would call, a hardware designer,” said Hockenberry. “What I found really special at Compunetix was the employees’ eagerness to teach. And I learned a tremendous amount.”

His progression within the company, from a hardware designer to eventually taking on sales and program management roles, showcased his adaptability and desire to expand his skill set and influence.

“I’ve probably had at least five titles in my career at Compunetix. I thoroughly enjoyed being a design engineer, but always knew I really enjoyed interacting with people,” said Hockenberry. “Technical sales felt like a great mix and natural progression of what I really enjoyed. I expressed this to my boss at the time and he helped me move into this role. I loved technically deep design work, but I also love to take what we do at Compunetix and help design system solutions. I worked with our team to develop the secure/nonsecure mission communications system for the Top Gun School of the U.S. Navy. We have so many really cool customers like this. We are one of the best technical company secrets in Pittsburgh people should really know about.”

Growing Toward the Sunshine

Put Hockenberry in front of a lot of sand, and he's going to build something big!Reflecting on his appointment as President, Hockenberry acknowledged the mixture of excitement and apprehension that came with the new role. He recalled being at the board meeting when he was named President. 

“Well, I remember hearing our elder statesman–a childhood friend of Dr. C’s–and I will not forget his words. He looked around at the fellow board members and commented that if Mike doesn’t do a good job, we’ll just fire him. I believe it was meant somewhat in jest but, I promised the board I would do the best job I can. That’s why I continue to perpetuate the idea that this corporation was meant to stick around a really long time. And while I have the role of President, I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by the great people of the corporation. It’s a fantastic team!”

Amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic, Hockenberry spoke candidly about the need for creativity and innovation in maintaining a cohesive workforce and detailed a new 9-80 work schedule for the manufacturing group.

It’s 80 hours in nine days. It’s a two-week schedule where workers have nine-hour days, most days. On two Fridays a month they work eight hours and on the other two they’re off. Compunetix is coming up on a year anniversary with the new schedule.

“The management team is very passionate about this and what it means to our manufacturing groups who had to be here every day through the pandemic,” said Hockenberry. “We wanted to show employees our appreciation with something unique.”

As Hockenberry mentioned when he accepted his post as President, he was committed to ensuring Compunetix’s future. He’s pretty stoked with some recent federal projects that are setting the tone for the years to come.

“On the Federal side, there are two particularly interesting customers. One is the B21 Raider, which is the new bomber. We supported Northrop Grumman directly with communication systems, as they were developing that. Now that it’s in its testing phase, out at Edwards Air Force Base, they once again bought communications equipment as part of that program,” he said. “There’s another program called the MQ 25 Stingray. This is the Boeing-built drone that is a refueler for the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy. The Compunetix communication systems are for the crew that flies and operates that.”

Many of Compunetix employees have had a long tenure at the company, just as Hockenberry has enjoyed. He knows that maintaining continuity in the workforce will be a key challenge for the future.

“We have a generation of folk that, within five years, will most likely retire. It’s important to make sure that we have a structured secession within the company and that we are preparing for how the company evolves and grows. The other part is recognizing where there are unique opportunities and potential for growth to make sure we provide the resources needed – whether that’s people, financing, whatever it might be – for those new opportunities to grow.”

And grow toward the sunlight Compunetix will. It’s apparent that Hockenberry and his team are building on a tremendous base started over more than half a century ago. As one of Pittsburgh’s foundational tech companies, its precedent of innovation will be fuel for the Pittsburgh region’s tech industry. No doubt Compunetix will surely be “sticking around” for quite a while.