M. Kenneth Oshman, Silicon Valley pioneer, dies at 71

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

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

Oshman, an Atherton resident, died peacefully Saturday surrounded by his family, according to Sinai Memorial Chapel. He was executive chairman of Echelon, a San Jose clean-tech company, since 1989 and also 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 this morning praising 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," Sege said.

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 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 his master's degree in 1965 and his doctorate in 1968.

Oshman and three associates founded ROLM Corporation, 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.

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 Corporation, 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, 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 time in Hawaii. The most important thing in his life was spending time with his family. He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Barbara, and sons Peter and David and their wives Stephanie and Joanna, four grandchildren and his brother, Rick Oshman, and sister-in-law, Tania, of Houston, Texas.

A memorial service is scheduled for today, Aug. 9, at 4 p.m. at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills.

--Palo Alto Online staff

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Like this comment
Posted by Local parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 10, 2011 at 2:03 am

An incredible loss to our community -- he was much too young. Condolences to his family and colleagues.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

Ken was a fantastic citizen and a huge asset to the community and to the Valley.

He will be greatly missed and continue to be admired by the many thousands whose lives he enhanced

Like this comment
Posted by PAPD-Critic
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm


Ken was my boss and I still have the press release and his parting words.

"People make the difference bend the rules. Take chances with people. Forget conventional wisdom about people.

Be honest and open. Honest to yourself with your employees and customers with your supervisors and most importantly with IBM.

Continue to question authority and conventional wisdom but get on board when the direction is set.

Remember whenever you are working to hard you're doing something wrong. Don't rely on consultants even me."

Ken Oshman

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