Bill Stealey moves through life like one of the mirrors in a kaleidoscope. He is constantly moving, creating an ever-changing and colorful landscape. He's a gamesman, a salesman, a businessman and the owner of the Baltimore Spirit soccer team.
He has been an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and a U.S. Air Force flight instructor and jet fighter pilot. He graduated from the Air Force Academy, earned an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and worked for several management companies before creating his own business, MicroProse.
In between he has found time for marriage, family and dancing -- though he almost blew the marriage part by not writing or calling Laura, then his girlfriend, now his wife, for two months while rollicking through Europe on his motorcycle. The Stealeys, who live in Sparks, have three children. Besides being a ballroom dancer, Stealey knows how to tap.
"I can do the old soft shoe," Stealey says. "I'm light on my feet."
If anyone doubts it, all he or she has to do is attempt to follow Stealey on a tour of MicroProse, his entertainment software company in Hunt Valley. Stealey moves at light speed, talking in rapid-fire sentences that would rival the missile fire in his million-seller F-15 Strike Eagle.
During the tour, he talks about the success of his business and points to awards on the walls -- best action, best fantasy, best you name it. "We are world famous," he says, never slowing down -- let alone stopping -- long enough for a visitor to take it all in.
They called him "Wild Bill" during his days in the Air Force "because I liked to play games." They should have called him Whirlwind.
"I loved every second of it -- it was an exhilarating big game," he says of the Air Force. "It was, 'I'm better than this airplane, the weather, the lightning.' "
And nothing much has changed over the years. Stealey, 45, is still a games player. His company has made five of the most successful computer games in history, including Civilization, the one voted Best Consumer Product, Best Strategy Program and Best Entertainment Program by the Software Publishers Association.
Stealey is still pretty wild, too, for who but a wild man would take on the ownership of a pro team in a sport that hasn't made money since it was created in the late 1970s?
"All you have to do is look at that team's new motto, 'Catch the Spirit,' and you see Bill," says Gregory Barnhill, a principal at Alex. Brown & Sons. "I've known Bill 10 years as a family friend as well as a businessman, and he has the kind of personality that can ignite a team and its fans.
"If you look at what he does, it all overlaps -- his business, the games, the sports. He is extremely dynamic and he has the enthusiasm for something like this kind of new venture."
Stealey's energy seems boundless, and he is a risk-taker who revels in a good gamble. Stealey is known to enjoy side bets, even as he races through a game of golf.
One of the best risks he ever took came in 1982, when he and Sid Meier co-founded MicroProse as a private company. They did it with $1,500, without a lawyer or an accountant. (Later, Stealey bought out Meier.) In October 1991, Stealey took the company public.
For the fiscal year ending March 31, MicroProse reported a profit of $4.1 million, or 70 cents per share of stock, compared with a loss of $658,000, or 10 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.
Revenues of $41.4 million were up 35 percent from the year before and marked the sixth annual increase in revenues for the company. Stealey, according to the most recent document filed with regulators, owns 3.6 million shares of the company worth $40.3 million at current prices.
The company, housed in 50,000 square feet of office space in Hunt Valley, employs 180 people and has branch offices in England and Japan. The office in England employs 160 people, doing exactly the same things. In Japan, the operation is much smaller, employing about 17.
"We come up with ideas and generally they are ideas of something in real life that most of us would have liked to have done, but because we have real jobs, can't," Stealey says. "So we are the Walter Mitty in all of us. We put it on a computer disk so you can be a jet pilot, a famous pirate captain, a submarine commander, an outer space person, a great railway tycoon. You can be God in a game called Civilization, if that's what you'd like to do."
Stealey has "carved out his own very profitable niche at the high end of the entertainment software business," says Steve Eskenazi, who works in research for Alex. Brown & Sons in New York.
Eskenazi also says that the sophistication and complexity of the games produced by MicroProse keeps it in front of the approximately three dozen companies it competes against.