When Good Pcs Go Bad

CEO finds lucrative market in retiring old computers

While some technology companies focus on selling the latest, cutting-edge products, one Columbus, Ohio, firm has found sweet success by concentrating on the tail end of a PC’s life cycle. RetroBox, founded in 1997 by Stampp Corbin, helps Fortune 1000 companies dispose of their computers and other high-tech equipment by sanitizing the hard drives, getting rid of all confidential data, and then finding other companies or consumers to purchase the equipment. Rather than simply reformatting hard drives, which can leave valuable data intact, RetroBox has created custom software applications that erase data completely.

“Our business [has] two distinct cores,” says Corbin, 43. “One is that large organizations are very concerned about information that’s resident on the retired computer hard drive.” This is particularly true in the case of the healthcare and financial industries and for all companies that house consumer information.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act protect consumer privacy and, equally as important, make companies liable if consumer information gets into the wrong hands. HIPAA, which went into effect in April 2003, protects medical records from being shared via verbal communication, on paper, or through a computer without a patient’s consent. The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act, enacted in 1999, forbids financial institutions from sharing information that they have collected from consumers without letting them know through explicit privacy notices.

This leads to the other core of the business: risk. “There’s legal risk, business risk, and environmental risk that companies face when they’re retiring an asset,” says Corbin. “The business and legal risks revolve around privacy–information they don’t want out there. From an environmental perspective, there are over 50 pieces of legislation in front of 24 states right now dealing with the concept of e-waste,” he adds. “States are saying, ‘You can’t throw this stuff in a landfill; you need to do something with it.’” According to Corbin, RetroBox helps organizations understand that “all information technology assets…are going to be environmentally recycled or disposed of according to prevailing [Environmental Protection Agency] state and local regulations.”

RetroBox was not Corbin’s first foray into the technology industry. As founder and president of the information security consulting firm Resource One, which was established in 1991, Corbin credits a client with the idea for RetroBox. “One of my clients asked me to help him deal with the re-marketing and removal of assets that he had purchased and was not happy with. From that, the idea for RetroBox was born,” Corbin says.

While Corbin still owns Resource One, which is also based in Columbus, he stepped down as president in 2002. Now, he’s focusing his energies on growing RetroBox as the company’s chief executive officer.

But so far, that choice has yielded lucrative results. RetroBox started in 1997 with one salesperson; today there are 96 employees. It took the company about five years to become profitable, Corbin says. RetroBox raked in $11.6 million in revenues in 2002. In 2003, the company earned $10.3 million in revenues.

Corbin has hefty plans for the future.

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