Donna Dubinsky

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Donna Dubinsky
Born (1955-07-04) July 4, 1955 (age 58)
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard Business School
Occupation Businessperson
Known for CEO of Palm and Handspring
Spouse(s) Len Shustek

Donna Dubinsky (born July 4, 1955) is a businesswoman who played an integral role in the development of personal digital assistants (PDAs) serving as CEO of Palm, Inc. and co-founding Handspring with Jeff Hawkins in 1995. She has gone on to co-found the brain research company Numenta in 2005, also with Hawkins, around whose ideas she has said she is happy to build her career.[1]

Fortune nominated her, together with Hawkins, to the Innovators Hall of Fame, while TIME named the pair as part of its Digital 50 in 1999 for their contribution to the development of the PDA.

Early years[edit]

Dubinsky grew up in midwest Michigan, where her father worked as a scrap dealer. She later attended Yale University where, as a student in Jonathan Edwards College, she majored in history and earned her bachelor's degree in 1977. Dubinsky then worked for the Philadelphia National Bank for a while before obtaining an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1981.

After graduating from Harvard Business School, she went to Apple Computer where she worked as a customer-support liaison. By 1985, she ran part of the company's distribution network. Discontent with the internal environment of the company led her to pursue work elsewhere.

In 1986, Bill Campbell recruited her to a senior position in Claris, a software subsidiary of Apple. Dubinsky was responsible for international sales and marketing, and within four years, her group was responsible for 50% of Claris's sales. However, Dubinsky decided to leave in 1991, when Apple did not allow Claris to become an independent company.

Palm Inc.[edit]

After a year's sabbatical in Paris to study French, Dubinsky met Jeff Hawkins through the introductions of Bill Campbell and Bruce Dunlevie. Hawkins was looking for a CEO to manage Palm Inc., which would join with other companies such as Tandy Corporation and Casio. The consortium produced a PDA called the Zoomer PDA on October 1993, just after the Newton MessagePad was released by Apple. Zoomer was a market failure along with similar products developed by Hewlett-Packard, Sharp, and Toshiba.

By 1994, companies had spent a billion dollars to develop PDAs without any of them becoming commercially successful. Hawkins took a hard look at the previous products, and at all the feedback from the market, and proposed the idea for the product that eventually became the PalmPilot.

Palm, Inc. decided to take full responsibility for the manufacture, programming, and distribution of the new product which was code-named Touchdown. However, it struggled for a couple of years to find the financial support needed to bring the product to market. In 1995, U.S. Robotics acquired Palm Inc. for US$44 million,[citation needed] bringing the Touchdown to market, originally as the Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000.

The first PalmPilot went on sale in April 1996. After a few months, sales started ramping quickly. In its first 18 months, more than one million PalmPilots had been sold. 3Com acquired U.S. Robotics, with its Palm subsidiary, in 1997. In 2000, Palm was spun out via an IPO into an independent company.

Handspring Inc. and beyond[edit]

Dubinsky, Hawkins, and Palm marketing manager Ed Colligan quickly became disillusioned with 3Com's plans for Palm, Inc. and left in June 1998 to found Handspring. Their track record and the tech boom that was then underway in the US meant that the trio were easily able to finance their new company.

She was the CEO of the new company which produced its first product, the Handspring Visor, by September 1999. The company decided to target the lower end of the market. Within a year, the company had managed to capture 25% of the market. Handspring ultimately became a leader in the market of smartphones with the Treo. In 2003, Handspring merged with Palm, Inc., having found that they had evolved in complementary directions, and that they would be far stronger by joining together. The company, formed through the merger of Palm and Handspring and the simultaneous spin-off of Palm's operating system group as PalmSource, was named palmOne. In 2005, palmOne was renamed to Palm, Inc., returning to its roots, and the independent PalmSource was acquired by Access Corporation of Japan.

Dubinsky, together with Jeff Hawkins and Dileep George recently founded Numenta, Inc. to further develop the pattern recognition software termed Hierarchical Temporal Memory.

She serves as a director of Palm. She also serves on the board of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, and recently was appointed to the Yale Corporation.

Dubinsky adopted a child from Russia in the mid-1990s and married Len Shustek in 2000.

She is one of three professors teaching a course at the Stanford GSB entitled Entrepreunership: Formation of New Ventures (Strategic Management 353).

Harvard Alumni Achievement Award[edit]

On September 27, 2007, Donna Dubinsky was conferred the Harvard Business School’s highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, by Dean Jay O. Light. The award was also given to: Ayala Corp. chair Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, A. Malachi Mixon of Invacare, Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP Group and Hansjorg Wyss of Synthes. She was cited for “introducing the first successful personal digital assistant (PDA) and who is now developing a computer memory system modeled after the human brain.”[2]

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