Entrepreneur in Residence, Chris Allison ’83

Chris Allison, Entrepreneur in Residence, CBE Co-Director
Professor Chris Allison, Entrepreneur in Residence and Co-Director for the Center for Business and Economics

Chris Allison ’83 serves as the Entrepreneur in Residence and the Co-Director of the Bruce R. Thompson Center For Business & Economics. As a member of the Department of Business & Economics Faculty since 2007, Chris Allison continues to serve as a visiting instructor. 

His current courses include:

  • Econ 010 – Financial Literacy (Fall Semester)
  • Econ 280 – Economics of Entrepreneurship I (Fall Semester)
  • Econ 281 – Social Entrepreneurship & Nonprofit Management (Spring Semester)
  • Econ 011 – Business Literacy (Spring Semester)

In addition, he serves as the Co-Director of the Center for Business and Economics.  Since joining the Department of Business and Economics, he has developed and currently oversees co-curricular programs, including The Lunchtime Learning Series, The Zingale Big Idea Competition, the CBE Financial Literacy Challenge, The Road Map, Center for Business and Economics Strategic Plan Development and student job-search counseling.  He also provides ad hoc assistance to Allegheny’s Admissions, Development and the college’s career counseling function.

Since 2009, Allison has served on Allegheny College’s Board of Trustees.  His Board of Trustees sabbatical took place during the 2021-2022 Academic Year. 

Tech-Company Founder and CEO

Chris Allison was one of the founders, and for nine years served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tollgrade Communications, Inc.  He spent a total of 16 years at the company until his retirement in 2005.  Tollgrade was, and still is, a maker of centralized test systems for telephone and cable companies.   From the time that he started as a founder to when he retired, Tollgrade sold $625 million of electronics equipment and software with gross margins exceeding 50% versus a standard telecom equipment industry gross margin of 32%.  Tollgrade’s gross profit or EBITDA exceeded 20%.

When Allison helped start the company in the early ’90s, it raised $6 million in start-up capital at a price of $3 per share.  Tollgrade was profitable by 1992.  By 1995, the company mounted its Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the NASDAQ Exchange.  Tollgrade priced its stock at the high end of the estimated trading range and opened at $14 per share with a total enterprise value of $84 million.

In December 1999, the company rejected an unsolicited offer by Acterna Corporation to sell the company for $180 million in cash.  By the middle of 2000, Tollgrade’s stock price reached $300 per share and the company’s market value reached $2 billion.

Tollgrade’s team turned $6 million of relatively illiquid investment capital into $2 billion of marketable securities.  When Allison retired, Tollgrade enjoyed an impeccable balance sheet showing $60 million in cash and no debt.

In addition to running the business, Allison managed the IPO process and communicated with Wall Street on a regular basis for nine years.  He hosted more than 41 quarterly earnings report calls; visited regularly with portfolio managers on Wall Street; regularly presented at investor conferences; and appeared in a story featuring the company on CNBC.  While he was CEO of the company, Tollgrade met or exceeded analysts’ earnings estimates in 40 of 41 quarters.  During the third quarter of 1998 — the only quarter that the company missed estimates — the telecom industry was experiencing an industry-wide union work stoppage.

Also during that time, Tollgrade completed two successful acquisitions valued at $60 million and $13 million respectively.  Both transactions were additive to earnings during the first quarter that Tollgrade owned the businesses.

Awards & Recognition

While he was CEO, Tollgrade was honored in 2000 and 2001 as one of the The Best 200 Small Companies in America by Forbes magazine; and in 2001 as one of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies in America by Fortune magazine.  In 2001, Bloomberg ranked Tollgrade #9 among The Bloomberg Personal Finance 100.  The company also received similar recognition from Industry Week and Business 2.0 magazines.

In 2002, Allison was voted Entrepreneur of the Year by the Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association and by Ernst and Young in 2005.  He was named CEO Communicator of The Year by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 2001.  The recipient of that award in 2000 was Paul O’Neill, CEO, Alcoa, who later that year became the United States Secretary of The Treasury.

In May of 2012, Allison received a Doctorate of Public Service honoris causa from Clarion University (CU).  He also delivered CU’s Commencement Address that year.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the Clarion University Foundation.

Columnist and Author

In addition to his corporate work, Allison has been, and is, a business columnist and published author.  Since 2007, his editorials or columns have been published in outlets such as Pittsburgh Quarterly, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Erie Daily Times and The Journal of Liberal Arts.

Allison is also the author of two books, You’ll Manage: Lessons Learned from a Former CEO, which was published in 2013, and Snowflakes and Other Stories, which was published in 2015.

He won the Golden Quill Award from the Pittsburgh Press Club in 1983, and was nominated for a second in 2007 for his work at Pittsburgh Quarterly.