Robert Cohn

Robert Cohn is an entrepreneur and businessman known for founding Octel Communications, the company that commercialized voice mail and was largely responsible for making it ubiquitous on cell phones, in companies and on residential phones.[1][2]

Robert Cohn
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
OccupationFounder of Octel Communications

In 1982, Cohn founded Octel Communications Corporation. He served as Chairman and CEO of Octel from its inception in 1982 until the company was purchased by Lucent Technologies in 1997. He then served as an Executive Vice President of Lucent Technologies, Inc. and retired April 30, 1999. From 2002 to 2004, Cohn was a partner with Sequoia Capital. He currently mentors and advises select first-time CEOs and rising stars in technology businesses.

Before Octel, Cohn held positions with McKinsey & Company, and Banque Rothschild in France.

He has a BS degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Florida and an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Octel Communications

Cohn and Peter Olson founded Octel Communications in September, 1982. Octel started shipping product in 1984, became profitable and started generating cash in 1985, and went public in 1988.[3] Octel was the first technology company to go public after the stock market crash of 1987.[4] Within a few years it became the biggest supplier of voicemail in all sectors worldwide.[5]

Octel adopted many of Silicon Valley's successful cultural concepts like employee sabbaticals, 100% participation in stock option plans, comprehensive employee performance reviews and career planning, an internal fitness center, and Octel University to give all employees new skills and ongoing training.[6] Octel was among the first to offer AIDS education, "take-your-daughter/son-to-work" day, and universal medical coverage including pre-existing conditions.[7]

Lucent Technologies acquired Octel in 1997 for over $2 billion in cash and assumption of options.[8] Lucent's Audix products were combined with Octel's to create the Octel Messaging Division based in Milpitas, California. Revenues of the Octel Messaging Division in the year Octel was acquired exceeded $1.2 billion, and its profits immediately enabled the Business Systems Group of Lucent Technologies to operate in the black. At the time of the acquisition, Octel was the worldwide market share leader in sales of voicemail systems to corporations and service providers.[8] He was made an Executive Vice President of Lucent Technologies and President of the Octel Messaging Division.


Cohn serves on the board of King (makers of the popular game Candy Crush) and as Chairman of RelateIQ. He is a Senior Advisor to Coatue, a New York-based, tech-only hedge fund. He is a trustee of Robert Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, and a Board Member Emeritus of Business Executives for National Security, a volunteer organization of business leaders that works with the Department of Defense.

Cohn previously served on the boards of many companies, private and public. Some of these were Octel, Trimble Navigation (GPS navigation), Charter Communications (cable company), Right Hemisphere (3-D software, now part of SAP), Electronic Arts (video games), (high-end online retail), Digital Domain (special effects for commercials and feature films) and BlueLithium (internet advertising, now part of Yahoo!). He was a member of the Board of Governors of NASDAQ from 1990 through 1993 where he also served on the Executive Committee; a member of the Advisory Council of the Stanford Graduate School of Business from 1993 to 1999; a board member of the National Conference for Community and Justice (a national organization devoted to addressing the issues of bigotry, bias and racism in America). He was a trustee of the Ballet San Jose, Castilleja School, and the International School of the Peninsula. He was previously a member of the American Business Conference, the Council on Competitiveness, and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he was also an industry governor in the Data and Communications sector for five years.


  1. Investor's Business Daily, February 17, 1989, “Investors Waking Up to Octel’s Leadership”; 19.
  2. San Jose Mercury News West Magazine, September 28, 1997, pp. 28-31 and p. 34, “Speaking With the Operator – For Robert Cohn, whose Octel Communications helped make voice mail ubiquitous, the message is the medium”, by Joel Shurkin.
  3. Fortune, March 29, 1988, “Return of the IPO? - Cohn’s Octel Broke the IPO Barrier”
  4. San Jose Mercury News, November 10, 1986, p. 7C, “Off the Consultant’s Pedestal and into the Corporate Fray”, by Steve Kaufman; Fortune, March 29, 1988,
  5. Fortune, May 18, 1992, “Octel – How to Shoulder Aside the Titans”, by Gene Bylinsky.
  6. San Jose Mercury News West Magazine, September 28, 1997, pp. 28-31 and p. 34, “Speaking With the Operator – For Robert Cohn, whose Octel Communications helped make voice mail ubiquitous, the message is the medium”, by Joel Shurkin.
  7. “How They Achieved: Stories of Personal Achievement and Business Success” by Lucinda Watson (March 30, 2001, pp. 77-85).
  8. Schiesel, Seth (July 18, 1997). "Lucent Is Set To Buy Leader In Voice Mail". The New York Times. p. C1.

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