The lure of the e-life

March 31, 2000

About ten years ago, Mark Horowitz was feeling "a little burnt out" by his job on the electrical engineering staff at Stanford University. "A friend of mine had this idea, and it sounded interesting," he says. "I thought, what do I have to lose?" The "idea" was a technical trick for shuttling data rapidly between memory chips and microprocessor chips. Rambus Inc, the company that Horowitz and engineer Michael Farmwald founded, soon shifted into designing chips to move data faster.

Horowitz had been ready to quit Stanford when he entered the quite different world of business, a place where salesmanship breeds success, rather than research that is "right or wrong". "You are selling things, if you convince people something will be true, it becomes true, and if you don't convince them, it won't be true."

The environment was fascinating, Horowitz says, butit was not for him. "It's not pretty how business runs, but it's interesting." After two years he was back in the university.

Rambus, meanwhile, has convinced enough people that its services are essential. Sony has included Rambus technology in its new Playstation 2 machines, expected to sweep the computer games world. Rambus went public in 1997. The value of Horowitz's shares has been estimated at $199 million.

"For most of my colleagues," Horowitz says, "money happens. It certainly wasn't my motivating factor. I learnt an enormous amount, but in the process I realised that what I really liked doing was teaching. I like being in a university. I like talking with students."

His new-found wealth has one blessing: it allows him to live in the Stanford area, where the high-tech boom has sent house prices crazily upwards, creating a big problem for colleagues.

Having never grown up with money, Horowitz says, he does his best to ignore it. Now aged 42, he drives a 1988 model car and cycles to work every day. While some millionaire professors indulge in luxuries such as airport limousines, the money has allowed Horowitz's wife, who is not working, to devote time and money to causes like a local Women's Recovery Centre. Even giving money away, he says, takes "time and effort".

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