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Kim Polese, Web entrepreneur
Give Kim Polese credit: at age 9, she knew she wanted to start her own company. "I just didn't know whether it was going to be ice cream or software," she says, laughing.
The dairy counter's loss is the information age's gain, since Polese oversees a year-old Silicon Valley start-up called Marimba Inc. If influence means setting important agendas, then Polese, Marimba's resident proselytizer and CEO, is the most influential Web entrepreneur of this online generation that is, the past six months. For Marimba's turf is push media: online material sent to individual computers automatically, without users' having to pull it down from websites themselves. The push idea has been around since early 1996, when Pointcast popularized the notion of streaming media offering stock quotes, sports scores, news headlines and the like. But it was Marimba that made push the defining Web vision last fall with Castanet, a system that offers streaming software, the actual applications from spreadsheets to video games whose efficient transmission will turn the Web into the all-encompassing information appliance its adherents have been promising.
It's heady stuff, but at 35, Polese already has a proven knack for sinking her teeth into the Next Big Thing. The Berkeley biophysics major cut those teeth doing tech support in the futuristic arena of artificial intelligence at Intellicorp and Sun Microsystems. It was at Sun in the early '90s that she hooked up with a project code-named Oak, which grew into Java, the programming language that brought interactivity to the Web and Polese to public attention as the engaging human face of what to most was an incomprehensible software product. With a core team of Java programmers, Polese lit out from Sun to found Marimba and change the world.
She hopes to make barrels of money in the process. That won't be easy; in just six post-Castanet months, a host of combatants, including Netscape and Microsoft, have entered the fray. But by stamping the future with Marimba's push-software brand and, not at all incidentally, doing so as one of the high-tech world's rare women executives, Polese has earned an honored place as the Web's 1997 It Girl.
Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright was already trying to influence people's views of foreign policy when she was in the ninth grade, a recent refugee with a funny accent and the wrong clothes who decided to start an international-relations club and make herself its president. Now, 46 years later, she is poised to become one of the most influential foreign policy powers in the arena, in large part because her voice carries further than anyone else's right into the White House.
When Clinton was mulling his choices for a Secretary of State to replace the untinted Warren Christopher, he soon acknowledged that no one was more skillful, or colorful, at explaining U.S. foreign policy interests than his outspoken U.N. ambassador. While her critics caricatured her as a loose cannon, without the heft and discretion to be a careful diplomat, the charge never stuck: for one thing, those who worked with her in private knew that those lively broadsides that made such great bites on the evening news had been carefully scripted and well rehearsed.