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Published: Friday, 7/26/2013

Joseph R. Links II; 1945-2013: UT instructor became software entrepreneur

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Joseph R. Links II, who was honored for his teaching skill and helped start what became one of the largest computer software firms of its kind, died Tuesday in Ebeid Hospice Residence, Sylvania. He was 68.

He had colon cancer, said his daughter, Gretchen.

Mr. Links, formerly of West Toledo, was chief executive of Software Alternatives Inc. when the company folded in the early 1990s. The business at its peak had several hundred employees and branches across the United States. It had grown to $14 million in annual sales and was a key software supplier for IBM.

The firm’s roots could be traced to 1967 when Mr. Links, a graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College, was hired by IBM for its Cleveland office and he met another new employee, William McGinnis. IBM transferred Mr. McGinnis to its Toledo office, and he went on to teach at the University of Toledo. Mr. Links took over in the Toledo office and later followed his friend to UT.

Mr. Links became coordinator of the computer programming technology department at UT’s community and technical college. In 1974, he was named a UT “Outstanding Teacher.”

“He got to help so many people, not only in the classroom,” his daughter said, “but find jobs later on and employed them” at Software Alternatives.

Jim Dunn, a longtime friend who worked for Mr. Links — and later employed him — said: “He put people in front of opportunity and saw what people could do that the people themselves didn’t see.”

Mr. Links and Mr. McGinnis became programming consultants, and when the volume of business expanded beyond part-time status, they formed Software Alternatives in 1978.

They took on three others as founding partners. The plan was to stay small, “but by the summer of 1983, when IBM decided it needed closer alliances with the people who were programming its computers, that changed,” Mr. Links told The Blade in 1988.

In the late 1980s, the firm moved to a 25,000-square-foot space in Maumee’s Arrowhead Park.

In part because of the firm’s tremendous growth — it started with $5,000 in capital — Mr. Links was named as a northwest Ohio Entrepreneur of the Year in 1989.

“He was probably one of the more brilliant guys I met in the computer industry,” Mr. Dunn said.

Mr. Links knew the technical side but was especially effective in sales.

“Joe could program, but his real strong suit was communicating,” Mr. Dunn said.

Software Alternatives closed only a few years later after changes at IBM led to reduced business from the computer giant.

Mr. Links’ next stop was accounting firm Ernst & Young.

“He did it like he did everything — with a smile on his face,” Mr. Dunn said. “My nickname for him was the Professor of Hope. Everyone he touched he made better.”

Mr. Links later led small information technology companies, but most recently had returned to sales, his daughter said.

He was born July 15, 1945, to Leatrice and Joseph Links and grew up in East Toledo. He was a 1963 graduate of Waite High School, where he played tackle on the football team. He also played football at Baldwin-Wallace.

He was a fan of Ohio State University football — for several years he attended every home and away game — and he liked to golf and fish.

He and his wife in recent years lived at Posey Lake near Hudson, Mich.

Surviving are his wife, Barbara Links, whom he married in 1965; daughter, Gretchen Mills; son, Greg Links; brother, Jeff Links; sister, Mary Links, and five grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home. Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in Reformation Lutheran Church, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to the church or Ebeid Hospice Residence, Sylvania.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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