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Internet's Unheralded Visionary: Leadership Matters

It's truly rare when there is a leader among us that dramatically changes our way of life by his or her singular vision. What makes these leaders so profound and worthy of our awe is their ability to truly envision a future the rest of us can't even imagine.

Many of these names are well known, like Thomas Edison with the motion picture, Edwin Armstrong and the FM radio, or Chester Carlson and the photocopier. However, many others stayed in the background although their contributions to our ways of life had tremendous and long-lasting effect.

One such leader, Theodore Constantine Papes Jr. , was the CEO of a start-up in 1984 that was a joint venture of IBM (IBM), Sears (SHLD) and originally CBS (CBS). First known as Trintex, the company helmed by Papes would launch Prodigy in 1988 in a limited number of cities to be followed by a national rollout in 1990.

While many people think of Prodigy as the Internet service that was trounced by America Online, there may have been no Internet services period had it not been for the vision and commitment of Papes. As a result of his foresight, Prodigy would lay the groundwork for much of what we take for granted on the World Wide Web.

His success wasn't just about the technology. He was also insightful in his approach to the marketplace. Before launching Prodigy in earnest, Papes led focus groups of consumers and software developers, asking what a dial-up customer might want in an Internet service. Before Windows from Microsoft (MSFT) had become adopted as the standard in personal computer operating systems, Prodigy offered a graphical user interface which put it far beyond the offerings of Compuserve, its closest competitor at the time.

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