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A Salute to Visionary CEOs - InternetNews.
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A Salute to Visionary CEOs

InternetNews.com 2008 CEO Vision Awards

It's not easy to find the most inspired executives who possess a unique mix of talent, drive, energy, leadership -- on top of a steely conviction about their technology vision.

Don't get us wrong: The technology industry is filled with lots of executive talent at all ranks and is populated by some of the sharpest minds on the planet.

But what about the ones who manage to break away from this very competitive pack and make a difference in the industry and our lives?

This helps explain why we created the InternetNews.com annual Vision Awards list, starting with CEOs at technology companies big and small. We set out to study who is impacting the industry on the strength of a clear vision -- and who is executing on that vision.

What went into our choices? Plenty of arguments, for starters. We looked at a wide swath of criteria: stock prices of the public companies involved, their performance in the year time frame, how much the companies are advancing innovation with information technology that enables greater strength in businesses and in how we live our lives.

What kind of difference did their moves make? How did their accomplishments influence and otherwise touch our lives? Should company size matter? What types of innovations mattered the most?

Of all these considerations, how and why they made that vision happen carried the most weight.

With this in mind, the editors of InternetNews.com and of Jupitermedia's online division salute the InternetNews.com Visionary CEOs of 2008, presented in alphabetical order.

We would like to thank you, our readers, for sending in some of the hundreds of names and accomplishments the editors studied in compiling this list. With so much talent in the industry, this was no easy task.

We look forward to keeping an eye on next year's winners. And, of course, we look forward to hearing from you.

(In alphabetical order)

Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com

Back when he was an up-and-coming executive within Oracle's (NASDAQ: ORCL) ranks, Marc Benioff had a cushy deal. Appointed a corporate vice president while still in his 20s, he could have been content to be one of CEO Larry Ellison's foot soldiers, pushing database software, making good money and enjoying solid job security.

Marc Benioff
Source: Salesforce

Benioff left his job as senior vice president at Oracle in 1999 to create Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), with $2 million as a parting present from Ellison to start the company that would promote the crazy notion that people would want their software as, well, a service they get online.

In doing so, he saw the ubiquity of the Internet becoming a reality, and that was vital to Salesforce.com's success. Electricity is useless without power plugs; Salesforce.com's on-demand customer resource management (CRM) software is useless without the Internet everywhere. In 1999, that build-out was still going on. Today, it's being realized.

But he and the company still have problems to address, such as embarrassing outages that call the whole SaaS model into question. After all, what good is an online application when it's not available? But it was what Salesforce.com continued to do in the last year that also stood out.

Take the strategic buy to add more gusto to the services it sells with last month's $31.5 million acquisition of multichannel knowledge applications vendor InStranet.

It put together deals with Oracle for iPhone applications and moved closer to Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) with its partnership on applications, keeping tongues wagging over whether a sale could be in the offing. Plus, it's moved quickly with its "platform-as-a-service" approach with Force.com.

There's no doubting Benioff's salesmanship and bluster as well. CNNMoney.com called him "the biggest blowhard in the Silicon Valley." Then again, he had a good teacher. But with the company on track for a $1 billion year, Benioff is showing how a vision launched at the height of the dot-com boom is bearing fruit.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Bezos proved to be an argument-filled selection. Some think the launch of the e-book reader Kindle is vision in action, while others saw it as another dud in a string of e-book reader duds in the marketplace. He still got points for overseeing the launch and helping to advance e-books in general, not to mention digital versions of its bread-and-butter selling books of the printed variety.

Jeff Bezos
Source: Reuters

What really made a difference with editors arguing for this choice is the work Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has done in the last year to woo hearts and minds with its cloud computing and EC2 offerings.

The larger story here is that Amazon is getting more serious about its cloud computing services -- probably based on a pretty solid uptake on the EC2 beta so far. It keeps EC2 in the same conversations as hosted applications, software as a service (SaaS), Web services and how software is increasingly sold: like a utility you pay for on a meter. He's well aware of that the next big thing is now "Platforms as a service."

Amazon is basically building out more cred by saying to potential customers: Applications will be well cared for here. But in addition, it's a move that will eventually get merchants to deploy Web services behind the scenes -- applications talking to each other on orders and other logistics stuff that puts Web services to work behind the scenes for a company that makes the bulk of its bread and butter selling books and gadgets in the physical world.

This is in addition to the launch of a music store that is actually giving the seemingly invincible iTunes a run for its money. Bezos is often criticized for doing little more than starting up the "Wal-mart of the Web." But in the past year, he has been steering Amazon into categories that deploy its enviable contextual shopping platform into something bigger on the Amazon EC platform.

The timing on Web services with the latest on EC2 just adds one more piece to the computing cloud at Amazon, and one more reason he made this list.

John Chambers, Cisco

Quarter after quarter, John Chambers delivers on the promise of innovation. He's got the mix of vision and ability to execute. That also speaks of a strong senior management team in place at the networking giant.

John Chambers
Source: Cisco

Chambers oversees a company that delivered new technology and strategic acquisitions that help differentiate Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) in its networking category. He's also keeping an eye on the bottom line. During a tough year in the overall markets, Cisco has so far delivered solid financial results to shareholders.

Chambers began the year by rolling out an ambitious new switching platform, the Nexus. The Nexus is a visionary approach to meeting the demand of the next generation of datacenters that will run converged networks and will scale to 100GbE and beyond.

At a time when many in the technology industry assume that commodity silicon and microprocessors are the way to go, Chambers sunk $250 million into a new routing platform. The Cisco Nexus, which debuted in March is powered by Cisco's own Quantum Flow processor.

Chambers also embarked on a new Linux strategy in April 2008. The Cisco Application eXtension Platform (AXP) plugs in the Cisco's ISR platform, which has already shipped 4 million units, to provide users with a Linux application server.

Looking forward, Chambers already has his sights set on the largest questions facing the Internet today, namely speed and capacity. Under the executive leadership of Chambers, Cisco in 2008 expanded the reach of its 40G offering and continues to test out 100GbE solutions.

Across every sector that Cisco reaches, John Chambers leads it on its brisk pace of evolution with his vision that the Network is the Platform.

Larry Ellison, Oracle

Larry Ellison? No question, he was a controversial pick that had the editors here getting ready to rumble. Joking aside, we feel Ellison deserves inclusion because of the key decisions he has made with his brain trust in steering the database giant not just into the future, but carving new territory in technology with the 11G platform.

Larry Ellison
Source: Reuters

Ellison is on this list because he leads a company that remains at the cutting edge of enterprise IT software technology -- and spending. Ellison is legendary in the technology industry as a Samurai CEO with a penchant for acquiring companies that don't want to be acquired, at least by Oracle.

It is the vision behind the acquisitions that led Oracle to dominate markets and push the technology envelope forward. In 2008, for example, Ellison completed the acquisition of BEA (a visionary company at one time in its own right) for $8.5 billion.

Oracle is already rolling out new technology based on the BEA acquisition, realizing the benefits of Ellison's vision. With the acquisition, Oracle now competes on a more head to head level with IBM (NYSE: IBM) in the middleware market and has an even stronger position in the overall enterprise software marketplace.

This year also saw Ellison's vision execute on virtualization with Oracle VM templates as well as the continuing growth of Oracle's Linux business. All this from a company whose name is synonymous with its namesake database. Did we mention that Oracle still dominates the database business, too?

That kind of business execution doesn't happen on its own. It happens only with skilled and visionary leadership.

Jen-Hsun Huang, nVidia

nVidia co-founder Jen-Hsun Huang was born in Taiwan and raised in Thailand, but when he came to America he was inadvertently sent to a Christian boarding school in eastern Kentucky, near the Appalachian Mountains. His well-meaning uncle and aunt had recently emigrated to the U.S. and spoke little English and didn't realize what type of school it was.

Jen_Hsun_Huang
Source: nVidia

Scarred for life? Hardly. Huang told Wired he remembers that part of his life "more vividly than just about any other." It certainly infused him with a work ethic and drive that served him well much later.

When he left LSI Logic in 1993 to start nVidia (NASDAQ: NVDA), he faced intense competition in the graphics chips market. nVidia had to compete with Cirrus Logic, 3Dfx, Tseng Labs, S3, Rendition and Chips and Technologies. They are all gone now, run out of town or acquired by nVidia in its relentless drive to make faster, more powerful graphics chips.

Huang didn't stop at making the fastest videogame chips for PCs. He pursued the lucrative console market, scoring deals to put nVidia technology in the original Xbox from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and the PlayStation 3 from Sony (NYSE: SNE). He went into the mobile market, despite making chips that have twice as many transistors as an Intel CPU and draw several times as much power.

Now, nVidia is entering the handheld space with its Tegra, designed to go head-to-head with Intel's Atom, and with its CUDA language, nVidia is promoting the idea of using its 240-core graphics processors to do large-scale mathematical computing jobs in a fraction of the time it would take a four-core CPU.

nVidia has earned lots of laurels, including the title "Company of the Year" for 2007 by Forbes magazine, but Huang has yet to rest on them.

Next page: More visionaries