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Wilmette native’s band opened for the Beach Boys, but that wasn’t his calling

When Tom Crowley, who grew up in Wilmette, graduated from Loyola University in 1983, his rock band signed a record deal and moved to Los Angeles.

Playing drums and singing background, Crowley said the group made a record and had a gig opening for Three Dog Night and the Beach Boys in Washington, D.C. But like millions of other band stories, it did not work out and the musicians broke up.

While California was beautiful, Crowley knew it was time to head back home. “I missed the seasons. I missed it here,” he said.

Crowley still plays in a band at local nightclubs, but his primary job now is serving as CEO for Libertyville-based MBX Systems, one of the few companies in the country that focuses exclusively on designing and manufacturing server appliances that come preloaded with software applications for use in corporate data centers and other business settings.

When Crowley returned to the Midwest, he started a small company selling PC components. A customer asked about putting his name on a custom server and Crowley, 57, became a pioneer in the now-booming server appliance business.

He started his business in Island Lake in 1995, then expanded to Wauconda before moving to Libertyville. The Wauconda resident said he has 142 employees and is hiring. “The market is growing because of the burgeoning need for specialized hardware to handle the mountains of data that must be stored and processed for backup, network security, content management, broadcasting, video surveillance and other advanced solutions,” he said.

“The business is doing well,” he added. His daughter, Shea, works with him as the business development coordinator and his son is a student in law school.

“It’s fun to come to work,” Crowley said.

And when he’s not having fun at work, he is on stage, playing guitar and singing with the Wichita Jacks. The group plays songs by the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker and Charlie Daniels to classics by Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Mellencamp and, of course, a bunch of Grateful Dead tunes. Crossroads near Mundelein and Docks on Bangs Lake in Wauconda are places the band often plays.

“I’ve had a running band since getting back from California. I never really left it,” he said, adding that he’s thankful that he listened to his Dad’s advice to finish college before he attempted to make it big in the music industry.

This article was originally featured in the Daily Herald Business Ledger.