Melissa Walsh

Dorothy A. Terrell

Gale Group | Dorothy A. Terrell

Dorothy A. Terrell

Black Biography: Dorothy A. Terrell business executive; president (organization); vice president (organization); administrator; manager

Personal Information

Born Dorothy A. Terrell, in Hallandale, FL, in 1945, married Albert Brown; children: Dorian.

Education: Florida A&M University, B.A., English, 1966.

Memberships: The Boston Club; The Committee of 200; The Commonwealth Institute; director of Boston Computer Museum; member of board of directors of: General Mills, Inc.; Sears, Roebuck and Company; Herman Miller, Inc.; National Housing Partnership Foundation, Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation.


Guidance counselor, Job Corps, 1966-67; counselor and administrator, Opportunity Industrialization Center and the Massachusetts Office for Children, 1967-76; manager of employee relations, Digital Equipment Corporation, 1976-84; plant manager, Digital Equipment Corporation, 1984-91; president, SunExpress, Inc. of Sun Microsystems, 1991- 97; vice president for corporate operations and president of the services group for Natural Microsystems, 1998-.

Life's Work

Dorothy Terrell has impressed her contemporaries in the field of global technology with her intuition for technological trends and ability to manage the creation of high-growth technology businesses. She has been recognized for her outstanding achievements and management skills while working at some of the world's most prominent corporations in the technology industry, including Digital Equipment Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Inc., and Natural MicroSystems Corporation. Her leadership and hard work have earned her several notable distinctions in the corporate and technological spheres.

Pursued the Liberal Arts

Terrell was born in 1945 and raised in Hallandale, Florida, in a community segregated between African Americans and whites. Her father was a gardener, and her mother was a cashier and housekeeper. Although neither of Terrell's parents graduated from college, they strongly encouraged her and her siblings to get an education. Terrell explained that in her community, there were few educated African American role models that represented various professional disciplines. Elaborating on this observation to Maria Shao of the Boston Globe, Terrell noted that the highest position she and her peers saw an African American holding in Hallandale during the 1940s and 1950s was most likely that of high school principal. Terrell's street was the dividing line between her own African American community of Hallandale, Florida, and the white community of Hollywood, Florida. She recalled to Shao, "My life was in Hallandale. I knew it was segregated. Very seldom did I go across the street. It was a different world."

After graduating from Florida A&M University in 1966 with a bachelor of arts degree in English, Terrell became a guidance counselor with the U.S. Jobs Corps program in Maine. She welcomed the opportunity both to work outside of her native Florida, and interact with many different kinds of people. Terrell admitted to Shao, "I learned a lot about life on that job." After receiving valuable vocational training and experience with the Jobs Corps, Terrell moved to Boston to pursue a career as a counselor, and later an administrator, at a social services center called the Opportunity Industrialization Center. While working there, she gained additional experience in human resources management and participated on a business advisory council with representatives from local Boston companies. Following her tenure at OIC, Terrell took a job with the Massachusetts Office for Children. While on the Boston-area business advisory council, Terrell met representatives of Digital Equipment Corporation, who offered Terrell a position in their human resources department. Terrell soon decided that she was ready to move out of employment in the public sector.

Confronted Technological Change

Terrell took her management expertise to Digital Equipment Corporation in 1976, where she was appointed as human resources manager at a plant in Westminster, Massachusetts. Because she possessed a big-picture sense for company procedure and production, Terrell was offered a management position over an entire facility. In 1984, she became plant manager of a factory that produced keyboards in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Terrell reminisced about that career opportunity in a 1998 article in the Journal of New England Technology, "Me and Ken (Olsen, DEC's founder) were the only ones with an overall view because of the unique position of being group manager human resources for manufacturing, engineering and market organizations. However, when they asked me to run the low-end manufacturing in Boston, I laughed ... but it was not such a drastic transition. It played to my strengths rather than weaknesses. They needed someone to pull together a team."

Terrell's expertise in managing employees led to another promotion with Digital, this time to a silicon wafer plant in Cupertino, California. Although she had not received formal technological training, Terrell gained knowledge as she worked in the industry. It was a daunting challenge for a person without technological experience to manage a group of engineers. Terrell explained in the Journal of New England Technology that the position required intense energy and hard work to become a successful leader of the facility, commenting, "I damn near killed myself and a few other people, but I did it and it was the most challenging job I ever had."

Digital colleague, Joseph Zeh, revealed his admiration for her to Shao, "Engineers got to like her. She pulled the right people together. She is a good judge of expertise and character."

Prior to leaving Digital in 1991, Terrell turned Digital's Interconnect Packaging Group from a zero-yield business into a highly productive and sophisticated technology and manufacturing operation. Terrell's success in managing Digital's Cupertino plant was admired throughout the industry. She had been selected to relocate to London to work in a marketing position for Digital, when Sun Microsystems offered her the challenging opportunity of developing Sun's new international catalogue and telemarketing venture known as SunExpress.

Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO, sought Terrell for the position after receiving recommendations from several Sun employees who had worked with her at Digital. Former colleagues praised her as an outstanding manager and leader. McNealy was convinced that Terrell had the type of personality and temperament that would suit her well at Sun. He told Shao that she had "a triple play combination--smart, experienced and your managers would enjoy working with that person."

Terrell was soon recognized as an integral part of SunExpress's rapid success. She served as the leader of nearly 20 employees in the United States and later managed revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars. With Terrell's skilled leadership, SunExpress brought in $160 million in sales in its first year. By 1994, Terrell quadrupled the after marketing catalog product line and expanded its distribution to Europe and Japan. In 1996, Terrell and her team founded and developed Sun's electronic commerce venture. Over time, SunExpress became a $300 million unit of Sun Microsystems with 300 employees worldwide. In 1997, Terrell led the consolidation of SunExpress with its parent company, even though it eliminated her position as president.

After taking a break from corporate life to spend time with her family, Terrell accepted a position as senior vice president for corporate operations and president of the services group for Natural Microsystems, a global telecommunications corporation based in Framingham, Massachusetts. The company is a leading provider of computer telephony platforms and a pioneer in telecommunications innovation and standards, offering products such as Internet voice and fax systems, voice response workflow systems, and Web-based call centers. Terrell welcomed the opportunity to lead the operation into a period of substantial international growth. The chief executive officer of Natural Microsystems and former Lotus Development Corporation CEO, Robert P. Schechter, was pleased to recruit a proven leader like Terrell.

According to Ronald Rosenberg of the Boston Globe, Schechter praised Terrell as having "...proven ability to build a profitable services business and to provide operations leadership in a rapidly growing technology- intensive environment...." She entered the position with the formidable task of leading several Natural Microsystems organizations, including: operations, manufacturing, procurement, logistics, human resources, and information technology. Terrell was also charged with building a new Services Group, called Natural Edge, for Natural Microsystems and its business partners. She designed the program to offer additional support and consulting services to equipment manufacturers.

Ralph Gillespie, a former Digital colleague, offered this appraisal of Terrell to Shao, "I would think of Dorothy as being a manager first .... She doesn't walk around thinking about being black. She thinks about being a manager."

In the Journal of New England Technology, Terrell appraised herself as a manager, "The talent I have is bringing people together, making things happen."

Terrell is married to Albert Brown. The couple have a daughter, Dorian, who was born in 1987. From 1988 to 1994, the family lived in Saratoga, California. During this time, Terrell commuted back and forth to the Boston area, where she would spend about two weeks out of each month. The family relocated to Boston in 1994.


Selected Awards: Distinguished Alumni Award, Florida A&M University, 1995; "20 Women of Power and Influence in Corporate America," Black Enterprise magazine, 1997; Directors' Choice Leadership Award of the National Women's Economic Alliance Foundation, 1997; a subject of "The Wizards and Their Wonders: Portraits in Computing, an exhibit of the Computer Museum in Boston, 1997; "Top 50 Women Line Managers in America," Executive Female magazine; "Top Ten Business Marketer," Business Marketing magazine.

Further Reading


Black Enterprise, April 1987; August 1991.

Boston Globe, July 25, 1994; February 18, 1998. Journal of New England Technology, November 9, 1998.


Additional information for this profile was obtained from, January 17, 2000; and, January 17, 2000.

– Melissa Walsh