Orange County Business Journal

In Memoriam: Dennis Morin, Wonderware Founder

Listed With Edison, Wright Brothers, Gates in Annals of Industrial Automation Chris Casacchia Saturday, January 5, 2013
Morin: built software company, Rock House

Morin: built software company, Rock House

Dennis Morin, a leader in Orange County’s burgeoning software industry in the 1980s, passed away last week after battling cancer.

He was 65.

Morin’s legacy dates back to 1987, when he started Wonderware Corp. in Irvine with longtime technology executive and software engineer Phil Huber.

Wonderware was a pioneer in utilizing the then-new Microsoft Windows software to monitor machine activity on the factory floor. It was one of the earliest companies to develop what’s called “human-machine interface” software, which is still widely used today by manufacturers. He was listed by Intech, the magazine of the International Society of Automation, as one of the 50 most important people in the history of industrial automation, along with the likes of Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Bill Gates.

Morin made millions when Wonderware went public in 1993, raising $32 million in its initial public offering.

He left the company in 1995, a day he remembered for bringing “extremely ambivalent” feelings.

“I wanted to leave … I wanted to stay …but after nine years of busting my hump I really wanted a break,” Morin told the Business Journal in 2001.

The day after he left Wonderware, Morin began pouring his time and energy into the construction and design of his $5 million home, the Laguna Beach landmark known as Rock House.

Three years later, Wonderware, now based in Lake Forest, was bought by the predecessor to U.K.-based Invensys PLC for $375 million.

Wonderware still has a sizable presence in Orange County, with some 500 employees and an estimated $200 million in yearly sales.

In 2009 Morin rejoined Huber in launching Irvine-based BeamItDown Software LLC, which made software for Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

Morin kept a low profile in OC technology circles after Wonderware, embarking on a few short stints at local startups.

He enjoyed the finer points in life and dabbled in several hobbies. He spent months sailing off the East Coast and had a glider plane. He was an avid cook, adding twists to recipes he learned at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in England.

He ventured into digital photography for some time, but never gave up a personal quest to perfect homemade pizza crust, among other passions.

“Dennis was a special spirit, technically brilliant, but more than anything else, a man who knew how to live life to its fullest,” said Business Journal Publisher Richard Reisman, a longtime friend.

Morin balked at retirement.

“When you retire, it can get boring as hell,” he said. “The intellectual challenges and the social aspects, it’s very easy for those things to just disappear. There’s something about doing stuff that keeps you interesting.”

Morin kept busy by taking a hand in several local startups.

In 1998, he invested in IndX Software, which, like Wonderware, helped companies manage complex processes more easily, cutting costs along the way. The company, founded by former Wonderware executive Michael Gonzalez, needed a strong salesman with a nose for software.

Morin fit the bill.

“Dennis is one of the best marketing minds I’ve come across,” fellow Tech Coast Angel and IndX board member John Kensey said at the time. “He brings that essential ingredient.”

Morin left IndX less than a year after joining the company.

The Rock House, an architectural marvel that appears to grow out of a cliff overlooking the Pacific, was his claim to fame, Morin joked to the Business Journal.

“I had no idea when I built it that it would become such a curiosity,” he said.