Covad's shares closed Friday at $10.06, off 73% for the year. That's only slightly above all-time lows set Tuesday of $9.75 on Nasdaq, well off a 52-week high of $66 a share. That's led to speculation that the broadband provider would make an attractive takeover target, though Knowling gives the impression any attempt would bring a fight.
Adversity brings a smile to Knowling's face.
Though he says he doesn't like to talk about it, he acknowledges the subtle and not-so-subtle racism he's faced throughout life when he's asked about comments that he is arrogant.
"My whole career, I've had to balance a sort of double standard," he says. "Back when I wasn't in charge, my aggressiveness was considered arrogance and being militant. Those are words used for young, aggressive black males.
"When my white counterparts would demonstrate the same traits, it was termed 'assertive,' 'initiative,' " says Knowling, who has joined with Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and others in trying to create more opportunities for women and minorities in the changing world of technology.