For nearly 40 years, CEO Jack Little has been one of the main figures behind the phenomenal success of MathWorks, a highly influential tech company that specializes in mathematical computing software.
Along with Cleve Moler and Steve Bangert, Little launched MathWorks in 1984 from a rented cabin. Little was inspired to build the company after recognizing a need among engineers and scientists for more powerful and productive computation environments beyond those provided by languages such as Fortran and C. In 1982, the same year “The Computer” was named Machine of the Year by Time magazine, it was Little who figured that personal computers could be used for technical computing. It also helped that Little had academic training as a control engineer at MIT and Stanford, making him familiar with the applications of matrices to control theory, which is still one of the main parts of MathWorks' business.
Early on, well-defined roles at MathWorks were instrumental. During the company's nascent stages, Moler kept focused mainly on early versions of MathWorks' game-changing MatLab product, while Little is credited with making sure that everything reached the market. Insiders refer to him as the company builder. In other words, according to Moler, "I am the father of MatLab, but Jack Little is the father of The MathWorks. He is the spirit and the brains behind the company."
As CEO, Little has been responsible for overseeing MathWorks’ rapid expansion over the years. The company's first software offering, MatLab, was designed to compute large arrays of data in matrixes. Originally used at research universities, MIT bought the first ten copies of MatLab for $500, with the disks purportedly packaged in Zip-Loc bags.
In 1987, MatLab 2.0 was retailing for $395. By the time version 4.0 was released in 1991, the software was selling for about $3,000. Two years later, MathWorks made its online debut, with mathworks.com being one of the first 75 websites ever registered for a commercial purpose.
Today, MatLab is still heavily used across MIT, but it is also relied upon by more than 4 million people in industry, government, and academia in 185 countries. In addition to MatLab, MathWorks now develops and markets Simulink, a product for simulating nonlinear dynamic systems, as well as an extensive set of add-on products for specialized applications in a wide range of areas — anything from signal processing and communications to testing and measurement.
A juggernaut in the mathematical computing software industry, MathWorks has come a long way since the days when Little served as the company's only employee. Describing his management philosophy with a Japanese proverb — “The more power you give up, the more power you have” — Little is responsible for his company's workforce exploding to more than 5,000 strong. Meanwhile, the company reported $1.35 billion in revenue for 2021.
Little holds a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Stanford and a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from MIT. On top of his CEO duties, he is a Fellow of the IEEE and a Trustee of the MIT Council.