The AIS Network Team wishes to tribute founder Dan Lundahl, who passed away on February 7, 2022. Deeply respected by those who knew him best, Dan has been described as the creative entrepreneur whose vision launched the company, the business leader whose dedication and high standards of service to customers made the company thrive, the friend who lived life to the fullest and never forgot a friendship, and the family man with a deep personal commitment to those he loved and his equally deep personal faith in God.
Born October 4, 1955, in Inverness, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Dan graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a major in business. His first business was printing, after which he moved into computers and computer hosting, which he recognized as the future wave. So, in 1993, he founded AISN, which became his life’s work. Terry Engelstad went to work for Dan in 2005 after the departure of a longtime AISN employee. Terry said he answered an ad for the job, and during the interview, both men recognized a shared business philosophy and work ethic in each other. Terry noted, “Dan fits the model of an entrepreneur. He never borrowed money [believing that] if you can’t afford it, don’t do it.” Instead, Terry added, Dan was dedicated to the company, and both often worked seven days a week to ensure success.
Another long-term associate, Bill Peters, worked with AISN from January 2011 to March 2017. He described Dan as “. . .a true pioneer, and he created a whole market of managed services pre-cloud.” Noting that Dan was committed to providing the highest customer service, Bill explained, “Dan was a strategic thinker, and that helped us make strategic decisions to attract key customers and build relationships. He could understand what the customer was trying to achieve and think through what was necessary to accomplish that goal.” He added, “No one else was doing what he did.” Bill joined the AISN team during the transition period following Dan’s business sale to Jay Atkinson and Kurt Baumann (Jay and Laurie, Jay’s wife, continue to lead the business today). However, even after Dan retired, he and Bill remained good friends, chatting often.
After more than 15 years, Dan was ready to retire, but he wanted to leave the company in good hands. The pivotal point in his search came with Jay Atkinson and Kurt Baumann, who were looking for a business venture just as Dan contemplated retirement. After thoroughly researching AISN, including its philosophy, business model, customer base, and financial foundation, Jay and Kurt went to Chicago, where they met Dan. They agreed to the purchase, which took place on December 30, 2009. Initially, they purchased 80 percent of the business, leaving Dan with 20 percent, so he remained on board for a year and a half during the transition, which concluded in 2011.
“He was honorable. His word was his bond, and he was a good guy,” Jay said, adding that Dan made sure that the new owners were on a “glide path to success.” Dan remained with the company to ensure that “everything was settled, all the customers were happy and we were comfortable,” Kurt said.
Kurt pointed out that it is quite different to work with an individual as opposed to a corporate-owned entity, explaining that AISN had been run as a sound business with solid financials – something that he and Jay sincerely appreciated. Kurt added, “He was instrumental in keeping the customers they still had.” Two years after the sale, Jay and Kurt moved the company to Richmond, Virginia, after winning a contract with the Commonwealth of Virginia. In addition, they made the transition from web hosting to cyber security, which Jay said “. . . is mission-critical for state websites.” Fortunately, as a tribute to Dan’s legacy, several of Dan’s customers remained with the company.
Dan remained in touch with the company long after he had left, according to Kim Lawrence, who went to work with the company six years after Dan left. She often contacted him about various details. She said, “He was a warm and caring person, always willing to help and always available. He always took my phone calls.” She teased him by asking, “Is that what you do all day: play golf, listen to Sinatra music, and cruise in your Bentley?” She added that he was proud of what Jay and Kurt had done with the company, and he had a good cause. Last year, the company was awarded a prestigious distinction:
Inc. magazine today revealed that AIS Network is No. 3877 on its annual Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. AISN experienced a three-year revenue growth rate of 82 percent between 2017 and 2020.
The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment — its independent small businesses. Intuit, Zappos, Under Armour, Microsoft, Patagonia, and many other well-known names gained their first national exposure as honorees on the Inc. 5000.
She explained that Dan was dedicated to his brand, and he wanted to retire knowing that he had built something of value. She believes that AISN has maintained that legacy with a work culture that encourages employees to further their education, tries to keep a good work and home life balance, is open and inclusive, and respects the opinions of its employees.
Although Dan remained in touch with the business he had founded and nurtured, he delighted in retirement, made sweeter by his relationship with his dear partner, Dori Hickey, whom he had met years ago in Chicago and with whom he moved from Chicago to a golf community in North Carolina. Dori describes him as a man of impeccable character – “the finest man I ever met” – as well as a man of faith, dedication, resilience, and tenacity. She said he was utterly committed to his business, and a reason for his success was working hard and putting the customer first. However, he also was a man full of life who embraced retirement with the same zeal he once adopted for his business. He loved golf, and he worked hard to improve his score until back problems curtailed his game. He was well-liked among his neighbors, always willing to help others, and had many friends.
A committed Frank Sinatra fan since the age of 6 as he drove around with his father, Dan had a veritable library of the lauded star, and he listened to the music as he drove around in his golf cart. Dori said that Sinatra’s music resonated with Dan’s personal view of life, and his favorite quote was:
“I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living life, a man who had good friends, fine family – and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that, actually.”
He had other interests as well. He loved hockey and was a diehard Blackhawks fan. He had a passion for politics and the free enterprise system, which he considered the surest means to provide an opportunity for all people and reduce poverty. He enjoyed encouraging young people to pursue private business, and he loved classic cars, even rebuilding a 1947 DeSoto taxi for which his craftsmanship earned him an award. Dori related that one of his finest moments came with a brief role in the movie The Founder, about Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s fast-food empire. Dan had a great time driving his taxi for Michael Keaton in the title role.
However, Dori insisted, “His greatest role was being a father” to his son Daniel Jr. and her two sons. Bill Peters echoed that point, noting that he, too, had learned so much from Dan about being a good father. Much of his success – in business and life – was due to his firm faith in God. Everyone who knew him commented that his faith was a significant component of his life, and he sincerely appreciated God’s blessings. One of his favorite poems was the much-loved “Footprints.” In it, a man looks back along with his life and notices two footprints, his and the Lord’s. However, he realizes that during some of the worst times in his life, there was just one set of prints, and he inquires, “Lord, why did you leave me?” Jesus replies, “During those times, I didn’t walk beside you. I was carrying you.”
Dan Lundahl firmly believed that, during the rough times in his life, the Lord was holding him up. It is fitting to think that now Dan is firmly at rest in the arms of the Lord he loved. He will be remembered with admiration and love by those who were privileged to know him.
The author, Mary Ann Kincaid, is a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia.