Wired Guns

From academics to activists to CEOs—including you-know-who—meet the power players who put the tech in Texas.

Identifying the most Texans in high tech isn’t an exact science: As with anything, it’s all about who you ask. Well, we asked more than one hundred industry observers all over the state and sifted through hundreds of potential candidates in search of those who best met the definition of power today: the ability to change the way business is done, move markets, shape perceptions, shake up the status quo, and affect the lives of the rest of us. Position wasn’t a guarantee of a place on the list; lots of CEOs are too busy running their hot new start-ups to have any impact past the front door. Neither was wealth; the state’s high-tech boom has created lots of multimillionaires, but driving a Ferrari or building a home to rival Bill Gates’s is a measure of ego, not power. And, finally, being powerful in the past doesn’t necessarily ensure that you’re powerful today (see ya, Ross Perot).

One thing became clear after talking to these key players: The high-tech industry is shifting dramatically because of the Internet. Some of Texas’ oldest tech companies are changing their stripes to compete in the new Internet economy, while a number of start-ups are attracting money and talent from all over the country, especially California’s Silicon Valley. Another trend we spotted is that Austin has clearly supplanted the Dallas area as the state’s hotbed of entrepreneurial activity (not coincidentally, Austinites fill more than half the slots on our list). Dallas may be big in telecommunications and computer gaming, but Austin is the online capital of Texas. And these days, the Internet is where the action is—and the power.

Corporate Chiefs

Michael Dell, 35
Chairman and CEO
Dell Computer, Round Rock

Picking Dell for a high-tech power list is a no-brainer; how could you leave off the Bill Gates of Texas? While wealth commands power—and Forbes estimates Dell’s net worth to be $20 billion—his influence goes way beyond money. He’s the David who knocked down Goliaths like IBM and Compaq, and he is still wielding his slingshot. Competitors predicted that the University of Texas dropout would fail, but Dell Computer is now the top seller of PCs in the U.S. and number two in the world. Like Gates, Dell is also an Information Age philanthropist: He set up a corporate foundation, and he and his wife, Susan, personally have donated millions to charities and are helping to pay insurance premiums for thousands of poor kids in the Austin area (see “Shares and Shares Alike,” page 8). Building the nation’s biggest computer seller, creating enormous wealth and sharing it—all that makes Dell Texas’ high-tech kingpin, hands down.

Thomas Engibous, 47
Chairman, CEO, and President
Texas Instruments, Dallas

The course of Texas Instruments has been charted, you might say, by an inventor and a reinventor. The former was engineer Jack Kilby, whose work on the integrated circuit in 1958 triggered an electronics revolution and set TI on the path to becoming one of the semiconductor giants (see “What Ever Happened To…”). The latter was Engibous, who has successfully tackled the task of rethinking the company’s mission. Named CEO in 1996 after predecessor Jerry Junkins died of a heart attack, Engibous has presided over a sweeping transformation of TI, which used to crank out everything from PCs to missile systems. Fourteen divestitures and sixteen acquisitions later, the company is betting its future on digital signal processors, or DSPs, which are inside everything from digital cell phones to laser printers and will eventually allow the wireless transmission of data, voice, and video over the Internet; and analog chips, which translate signals from the real world—heat, light, sound, or pressure—into the ones and zeros of digital code that DSPs use to make sounds clearer, images sharper, and data faster. So far the makeover is paying off: TI ranks as the largest maker of DSPs for cell phones and has 47 percent of the overall DSP market. Look out, Intel.

Edward E. Whitacre, Jr., 58
Chairman and CEO
SBC Communications
San Antonio

He’s a boy scout at heart—in fact, he’s the national president of the Boy Scouts of America—but he’s also a fierce competitor. A native of Ennis and a Texas Tech University graduate, Whitacre joined SBC (then Southwestern Bell) in 1963 as a facility engineer in Lubbock and rose through the ranks to become CEO in 1990. In the years since, he’s masterminded SBC’s transformation from a standard Baby Bell into a full-service global communications company, engineering a major expansion into wireless communications and acquisitions of Pac-Tel, SNET, Comcast, and, famously, in a $72 billion megadeal last year, Ameritech. The result is a telecommunications empire with about a third of the nation’s local phone lines and telephone and wireless service in 24 states and 22 countries. In January SBC asked the Federal Communications Commission for approval to offer long-distance services in Texas, but Whitacre sees data in its future as well: An alliance with Prodigy will one day give SBC access to millions of Internet subscribers, and the company is spending billions of dollars to offer high-speed Internet access.

Just Missed—See You Next Year.

Richard Linklater, 39
President
Detour Film, Austin

The indie filmmaker isn’t dazed and confused when it comes to digital movie making. His new feature film, Waking Life, was shot and edited digitally and will be computer animated.

Thomas J. Meredith, 49
Senior Vice President and CFO
Dell Computer, Round Rock

The breakout star of Dell’s top ranks is responsible for its corporate planning and development and investor relations. And he’s a player in public affairs, advising both UT and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Greg Peters, 39
Chairman and CEO
Vignette, Austin

Less than a year after he took over Vignette, which helps its customers build businesses online, the company has one of the highest market capitalizations of any Central Texas high-tech firm.

Sanjiv Sidhu, 42
Founder and CEO
i2 Technologies, Irving

The former Texas Instruments engineer’s software company, which creates online marketplaces for e-commerce, saw

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