M. Kenneth Oshman, tech pioneer and Atherton resident, dies at 71

His family foundation donated $10 million to build Jewish community center in Palo Alto

Silicon Valley pioneer and Jewish Community Center benefactor M. Kenneth Oshman has died. He was 71.

Mr. Oshman, an Atherton resident, died peacefully Saturday (July 30) surrounded by his family, according to Sinai Memorial Chapel.

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.

The company's board of directors released a statement Tuesday morning (Aug. 9) praising Mr. Oshman as a "brilliant leader who served as an inspiration to everyone around him" and commending him for creating a "culture where hard work and collaboration just came naturally."

"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 said in the statement.

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

"We will dedicate our efforts to continue to innovate and grow at Echelon as Ken would have wished," Mr. Sege said.

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.

He 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.

At the center's 2007 groundbreaking, according to J. Weekly, Mr. Oshman recalled the 2,000-square-foot building in Texas where local Jewish families socialized in his youth.

"For Barbara and me, the Oshman Family JCC is a marvelous, modern, urban extension of exactly the same community gathering place -- a place not for a handful of families but for thousands of families," he said.

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.

--Palo Alto Online staff

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Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Ken's extraordinary leadership style, keen business acumen,and impeccable character were sources of inspiration for all of us who worked WITH him at ROLM. With his co-founders Ken created a company culture that took pride in not only its results but the ways it achieved them. In the 1980's, ROLM was the gold standard for building a positive and productive work environment. Unfortunately, Silicon Valley has lost a great friend.

Like this comment
Posted by poster
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Here is an obituary in the New York Times: Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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