CNE Founder Paul KnightCNE celebrated its 20th anniversary in June 2022, a major milestone for a company with a storied past. In this second installment of our blog series, Founder & Chairman Paul Knight reflects upon CNE’s 20-year history, discussing some of the challenges and triumphs the company faced during its early years - including a devastating fire at its corporate headquarters in Peabody, Massachusetts.

View part one and part three of our CNE 20th anniversary blog series.

Q: Paul, tell us about some interesting challenges CNE had to overcome as a company.
A: In 2008, the CNE corporate office moved into a larger facility in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the team was enjoying the new spacious and modern surroundings. One morning, while on my way to the office, I received an urgent call from a member of our team alerting me that he was at the office and was standing in two feet of water. The new Beverly office was located close to the ocean, and overnight a tidal flood had overflowed all the storm drains in the area, resulting in all lower lying areas becoming flooded. Thankfully, we had recently moved all our inventory to a larger warehouse in neighboring Salem, Massachusetts, which prevented catastrophic damage.

However, we could no longer occupy the Beverly office and needed to find a new home immediately. Coincidentally, the Salem warehouse, where our inventory was stored, had a fair amount of office space available. The only drawback was the space had not been used for about 50 years. It was not pretty, with cords and wires hanging from the ceiling as we refitted the space, but we found a way to make it work as the CNE team was too busy to worry about the quality of our surroundings. The computers and phones worked, which was all we needed. It was a minor setback, but a manageable one.

Years later the CNE corporate offices relocated to a much larger facility in nearby Peabody, Massachusetts. A larger facility was needed as CNE had invested heavily in specialized equipment that enabled us to test, overwrite, and grade hard disk drives in large quantities. Due to rapid market growth, the facility was open 24x7 and weekends to meet growing demand.

Q: Tell us what happened in 2016 when the CNE warehouse and corporate headquarters caught fire.
A: I remember that day vividly. It was July 12, 2016, and I was on a plane getting ready to fly back to Boston from Atlanta. As the flight attendant was making the announcement to turn off all electronic devices and prepare for takeoff, I received a call from a CNE salesperson. Answering quickly, I thought I would just say hello and call him back once I returned. As I answered, I heard a shaky voice on the other end asking, “P.K., are you alright?” He didn’t realize I was out of town and went on to inform me that the CNE headquarters in Peabody was on fire. My heart sank as I pondered what was happening. At that exact moment, the flight attendant was standing overhead admonishing me for still having my phone on. When I said, “Yeah, but my building is on fire,” she really did not have any sympathy and instructed me to shut it off immediately.

As I sat in silence, on what seemed like an endless flight to Boston, I once again pondered the future of CNE and prayed that the entire team was safe. I landed a few hours later and quickly headed directly to the facility. When I arrived, I came upon a scene I will never forget. Fire and thick black smoke had engulfed the entire building, and no one could get close enough to inspect the damage. It took two days to fully extinguish the flames. The local fire department made great efforts to try to protect the contents of the building, but in the end, it was too late. The result was the loss of millions of dollars of inventory and testing equipment that could not be recovered. Thankfully, the entire CNE team was safe and there were no injuries. However, once again, CNE was without a home.

I could tell many stories about what happened following the building fire that allowed CNE to endure. But most importantly, I must recognize the heroic efforts of so many CNE employees who went above and beyond to help lead us through the crisis. It was incredible to be a part of such a dedicated group of individuals, and I will never be able to properly thank them all for working tirelessly to continue servicing customers while saving the company.

Q: That is an amazing story. What happened after the fire? Where did the company relocate?
A: After stabilizing business following the fire that destroyed our corporate headquarters, I immediately needed to start searching for a new home. My colleague, Jerry Quill, was assigned the inevitable task of finding our next location, quickly. Periodically, Jerry would ask me to join him on site visits to explore our options. One day, we were driving through the same industrial park where our burned-out facility was located. There was a space that would be coming up for lease in a few months, but we could not visit because actor/producer Mark Wahlberg was currently using it to film portions of a new movie Patriots Day.

With not many options available, I said, “let’s just go take a look.” As we pulled into the parking lot there was not much action going on that day, and we decided to go inside and see if we could view the space on our own. As we walked in, we acted like we belonged saying “hello” to everyone, and no one asked any questions. I remember standing on the 2nd floor level looking down at the warehouse set below where Kevin Bacon would later have his FBI team assembled for interrogations and investigation. What I would not know at the time, was that I was standing exactly where my future office would be located. After filming of Patriots Day wrapped, CNE moved into its current home at One Technology Drive in Peabody, Massachusetts. Since then, I have invited all the stars from the movie to come by for a visit, but no one has taken me up on my generous offer thus far.

Q: It seems CNE has overcome much adversity. What do you see next in CNE’s journey?
A: Sometimes I joke about the fact that we survived a flood, then a fire, and it was only a matter of time before the locusts arrive. I have come to learn that in business, if you surround yourself with the right people, there is little you can’t accomplish and overcome. Catastrophic global virus? Yes, we’ll get through it. Recession? OK, we can manage that too. Global political unrest? We will be OK. Companies still need to properly dispose of technology assets, and somewhere in the world, someone wants to buy them and put them to good use.

To be continued.....

Read the next blog in our CNE 20th-Anniversary Series when Founder Paul Knight shares some breakthrough moments that helped define CNE as a market maker and hard disk drive company.

View part one and part three of our CNE 20th anniversary blog series.