Silicon Valley

Game Changers and Legendary Leaders

What Waze, Uber have in common with Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer. A Baja brainstorm: the Churchill Club Award nominations.

Clinton Stark
04.09.2013 | View Comments
Legendary Leader? Facebook CEO and 'Lean In' "author"  Sheryl Sandberg.

Legendary Leader? Facebook CEO and ‘Lean In’ “author” Sheryl Sandberg.

This is my first year as an “Academy” member of the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley (a business and technology forum), which means I’m able to have my voice heard–for better or worse–and submit nominations.

Again, like last year, there are four categories: game changer (company), global benefactor (person), magical team (team), and legendary leader (person). In 2012, the honorees included SpaceX, Hasso Plattner (SAP), Box and Vinod Khosla.

Nominations are due this week. There’s a voting process coming in the months ahead; the award winners will be announced at a gala in September.

At first I thought this would be a straightforward process. After all, the cream of the crop bubbles to the top each year, and significant influencers and the big time do-ers grab their appropriate share of headlines; we know their names, their faces, their stories. Or do we? Well, as I’m discovering: maybe.

Expect Sheryl Sandberg to use her momentum as a play for politics in the coming years.

I hesitate to use the term “Golden Age” to refer to this incredible era of innovation that we’re experiencing (maybe each generation feels this way during their decades under the sun?), but it seems as though there’s an unprecedented level of innovation, and hyper-enlightened story-telling. Assuredly, social media and the ability for information to travel at the speed of light has something to do with that – is there really that much new thinking out there or are we just exposed to an increasing cross-section (e.g. the overexposure of TED)? Maybe yesteryear whereas we were focused solely on the pepperoni, now we see the onions, the green peppers, the olives. How deliciously world changing!

I’ve been thinking about this while spending a few weeks here in our little casa in the Baja. Being constantly dehydrated in the middle of a desert, with a warm sea breeze and burning sun have a way of focusing the mind… or imagination.

As far as game changing companies, there’s a few that come to mind as potential nominees. Samsung has done the impossible, and mounted a daunting attack against our beloved Silicon Valley institution, Apple. Waze has upended navigation by leveraging crowd-sourcing. Bitcoin has the opportunity to revolutionize modern economics. Amazon, especially its cloud offering AWS, is a juggernaut. And companies such as Uber and Lyft are taking traditional transportation models (taxis) and applying real-time supply/demand dynamics thanks to mobile technology.

For the benefactor category, I haven’t yet fleshed out as many possibilities. One, though, that came to mind is Salman Khan, the founder of his eponymous education platform. But, he has already won a Churchill Award – in 2011.

The team behind “Google Now” should be on any short-list of magical teams. What about Google Glass? I think that one’s too early. While wearable computing could take off, it could also bomb. Plus the technology is not yet in consumer’s hands. As the Churchill description for this category reads, “This was the team that made the difference; they realized the vision, and they nailed it.” By that definition Google Glass doesn’t count… yet. Google Now, on the other hand, runs on most Android devices. It predicts what kind of information you’ll want based on your location, your activities, your relationships, your affinity for certain content — basically your mobile context. What you get is a glimpse of what’s to come in mobile technology: information presented real-time as you need it without ever having to explicitly ask for it. In May, Google will release Key Lime Pie, the next rev. of the Android platform (v 5.0). Expect Google Now to be integrated further, not only into the Android platform, but also across Google’s portfolio of web properties (search, Gmail, etc.).

The Facebook Home team could be a candidate too. It takes the mobile smartphone experience and puts “people first,” highlighting our relationships and social connections in lieue of static app icons. At its heart, though, we all really know what it is: a way for Facebook to muscle in on the mobile ad revenue it sorely needs to grow; the battle that Google is currently winning.

Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook CTO) and Marissa Mayer (Yahoo CEO) jump immediately to the top of my short-list for “Legendary Leader.” I suspect those choices aren’t exactly rarified. Sandberg and Mayer have dominated headlines in the Valley for the last year – one as the leader of a refreshing, modernized feminist movement asking women leaders to “Lean In” and the other as the highly paid super Mom now running one technologies most loved, most embattled brands.

Expect Sandberg to use her momentum as a play for politics in the coming years.

I’ve got about 48 hours of intense research in front of me. My nomination short-lists are far from complete. So far, though, 2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year for those that would settle for anything less than making their lives count – for the benefit of us all.

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Clinton Stark
Clint writes about Silicon Valley (Churchill Club Academy member), film, California wine, theater (ATCA member) and tech including his trusty Canon EOS 70D and, much to his wife's chagrin, his new Pebble smartwatch. A would-be NHLer if it weren't for the clarinet, he tries in vain to direct Loni on Stark Insider TV. He's held executive marketing roles at Cisco, EMC and Salesforce.com, and is active with start-ups across the valley. Clint's story...