When a waiter brought filet mignon or some other expensive dish to Jean Noel Tariot’s table, the French-born engineer and technology company executive rarely missed an opportunity to playfully make light of the meal.
His wit, along with a dream-big outlook, helped make him approachable as president of InCoTerm Co., a company he started with a former colleague in the late 1960s to create computer display systems that helped airlines deal more smoothly with taking reservations.
Mr. Tariot, who with his wife endowed a French horn chair for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, died April 17 in Newfield House, a convalescent home in Plymouth, of complications of a stroke. He was 84 and had lived in Duxbury.
Before computers were ubiquitous, airlines employees often worked in gymnasium-sized spaces to sort customer reservations. While working at Raytheon, Mr. Tariot began finding ways to improve the technology available to airlines.
He and a colleague, James Upton, took a risk and left their jobs to start InCoTerm. The name was a truncated version of what they had initially wanted to call International Computer Terminals Corp.
Their venture was so interesting that Mr. Tariot’s family was interviewed by a Harvard Business School instructor for a case study that looked at how entrepreneurs make decisions.
“I think what intrigued the business school was the extraordinary risk these guys were willing to take, and yet the story was so compelling,” said his son Pierre of Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Mr. Tariot “was charismatic, extremely articulate, and I think that combination of skills along with fundamental smarts is what allowed him to succeed as much as anything,” his son said.
After the company landed a contract with United Airlines to streamline the reservation process, the banking industry, brokerage firms, insurance companies, and state governments wanted to use the technology.
“It was amazing how many different situations it could be used in,” said former colleague Trevor Lambert.
Mr. Tariot was the president of the company and Upton was executive vice president, but they treated it as more of a co-presidency, family and colleagues said.
In 1976, the company’s board voted to create a chairman and chief executive officer position for Mr. Tariot and named Upton president and chief operating officer.
Mr. Tariot was easy to get along with, a big dreamer with an effervescent personality, family and friends said.
“He was French, of course, so he had a certain je ne sais quoi,’’ Lambert said.
Henri Hodara, who had been a classmate of Mr. Tariot at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his friend “was obviously very smart, very bright,” and added that “he had a great sense of humor and was filled with optimism.”
For InCoTerm’s potential clients, it helped that Mr. Tariot could explain the technology “to the average person very clearly,” his son said.
Upton balanced Mr. Tariot by making sure the company’s goals were not too lofty, colleagues said.
“We wouldn’t move until we had a firm contract,” Lambert recalled.
The partners worked long hours, according to Upton’s widow, Barbara.
“They did not work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; they worked 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” said Barbara Upton, who is known as Pepi and lives in Maine. “It was an incredible 10 years of taking every ounce of energy they had to do their work.”
The partners sold the company to Honeywell in 1978. Mr. Tariot, who became a vice president and general manager with a Honeywell division, retired two years later.
Part of what prompted him to sell InCoTerm was that the company nearly outgrew itself. Mr. Tariot’s son read from a statement his father had prepared about InCoTerm and the competition it came to face.
“As we grew, some of the fun disappeared and was replaced with endless government forms . . . and with overly-aggressive behavior on the part of the big boys,” the statement said.
The Globe reported in 1977 that InCoTerm faced competition from IBM and AT&T, despite the success of adding 36 airlines to its customer list after that first contract with United Airlines.
Born in Paris, Mr. Tariot fled to Portugal with his mother after the German occupation of France began during World War II.
The family had been well off in Paris, but during the war Mr. Tariot scrounged for basic necessities, including food. Trashcans outside cafes frequently patronized by German soldiers often were the best culinary option, he told relatives years later.
Mr. Tariot left on a ship bound for the United States in 1941. He attended high school in Amsterdam, N.Y., and graduated from MIT in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
He worked for Raytheon, RCA, and the Air Force Research Center, helping to build display systems and defense electronics.
While still an undergraduate, he was introduced to Ramona Nelson on a blind date, and two years later, they married.
After retiring, he began a tradition of cooking a pot of soup each day. Variety and ingredients were important. He had a greenhouse in which he grew herbs and vegetables.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Tariot leaves two other sons, Paul of Newburyport and John of Hanover, N.H.; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
Burial was private.
His great-uncle Alexandre Tariot was a composer who associated with prominent musicians in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“I had the honor of having my hand shaken by Maurice Ravel, who was a friend of my great-uncle,” Mr. Tariot told the Globe in 2004.
That year, the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra performed “Les Paons,” one of Alexandre Tariot’s compositions.
Mr. Tariot told the Globe that he ended up owning his uncle’s music manuscripts, which were rescued by relatives during the German occupation.
“My cousins got the silver,” he said, “and I got the music.”