Almanac

News - August 17, 2011

M. Kenneth Oshman, tech pioneer, dies at 71

Silicon Valley pioneer, Atherton resident and Jewish Community Center benefactor M. Kenneth Oshman died July 30 at age 71.

He co-founded ROLM Corp., a telecommunications company, in 1969.

He was executive chairman of Echelon, a San Jose clean-tech company, since 1989, and served as the company's CEO from 1988 to 2009 and president from 1988 to 2001.

He stepped down in 2009 after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, according to a statement from Echelon. Echelon is a pioneer in energy-control systems for smart electric grids, smart buildings and smart devices.

"He was one of the original Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, whose personal vision and passion formed not one, but two, industry-leading companies that developed revolutionary technologies that paved the way for today's communications and modernization of the smart grid," the board of directors of Echelon said in the statement.

Ron Sege, Echelon's president and CEO, said in a statement that Mr. Oshman's colleagues "will deeply mourn his loss and miss his spirit, good humor and big-heartedness."

Mr. Oshman was raised in Rosenberg, Texas. He attended Rice University and graduated summa cum laude with undergraduate degrees in engineering. He married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Daily, in 1962.

The couple moved to the Bay Area in 1963, where Mr. Oshman was a member of the technical staff at Sylvania and developed nonlinear optical techniques and systems. While at Sylvania, he attended Stanford University and received a master's degree in 1965 and a doctorate in 1968.

Mr. Oshman and three associates founded ROLM Corp., a telecommunications company, in 1969. He was company CEO, president and a director until its merger with IBM in 1984. He was a vice president at IBM after the merger and a member of its corporate management board until 1986.

He was a past president of the board of the Stanford Alumni Association and past member of the advisory council of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, of Stanford Associates, and the board of directors of the Community Foundation of Santa Clara County.

He was a member of President Ronald Reagan's Economic Policy Planning Committee and the Committee to Advise the President on High Temperature Superconductivity.

Mr. Oshman was known as a gifted businessman and lent his expertise to the boards of Sun Microsystems, Knight Ridder, ASK Computer Systems, StrataCom Inc., and Charles Schwab Corp., among others.

His family foundation donated $10 million to help build a new south Palo Alto Jewish community center, which opened in 2009 and was named in their honor.

He enjoyed playing golf, attending opera, and spending time in Hawaii. The most important thing in his life, say family members, was spending time with his family.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Barbara, sons Peter and David, four grandchildren, and brother Rick Oshman.

A memorial service was held Aug. 9 at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills.

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