High-tech Jewish icon holds tricks of trade in her Palm

Donna Dubinsky, co-founder of Palm Computing, which produced the wildly successful PalmPilot hand-held computer, gave a rapt throng of Jewish professionals a trio of business tips last month:

*Challenge conventional wisdom.

*Stay true to your Jewish roots.

*Always be sure to have plenty of "go-to-hell money."

The high-tech guru addressed closed to 400 people at San Francisco's Argent Hotel at an annual event sponsored by the business and professionals division of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.

Dubinsky — who worked at Apple for many years before joining Palm Computing, where she co-founded Palm with Jeff Hawkins — was included in Forbes Magazine's list of the "50 Most Powerful Women in American Business." So it's little wonder most of the people in the audience granted her iconic status.

"The last time I saw Donna speak, I was really awed," said San Francisco resident Paige Kluger. "She's a very powerful, charismatic speaker." Kluger also noted that Dubinsky's forays into the hand-held computer market demonstrated that "size always matters."

Eric Gold, also a San Francisco resident — and the only attendee clad in a shirt that was so garish "it directly violated the Ten Commandments," — appreciated the speaker's wan sense of humor, which provided a contrast to the techno-speak Dubinsky favored at times.

The current CEO of Handspring, which was formed in 1998 (also with Hawkins), Dubinsky laced her talk with references to PCMMCI slots and imbedded wireless communication. Although Dubinsky had plenty of jargon that might of flown over the heads of some in the audience, she also offered plenty of homespun food for thought.

She cited, for instance, her willingness to "break with tradition" and go "against the grain" as a reason she accomplished her goals.

Dubinsky's rise to prominence did suffer several obstacles. The concept for the PalmPilot was passed on by several companies, but Dubinsky sold the product to U.S. Robotics, setting out to produce units of the Palm. In slightly over 18 months, more than a million will sold.

"We realized that in order to succeed, we had to challenge the conventional wisdom," Dubinsky said. "We also understood that 'strategies don't move mountains — bulldozers do,'" she added, quoting business expert Peter Drucker. "Perseverance is everything."

Dubinsky, who works out of Mountain View, also cited her adherence to Jewish mores as being a cornerstone of her business success.

The high-tech innovator, who attends Reform Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, with her daughter and husband (Len Shustek, the co-founder of Network General, now Network Associates), said that the Jewish tenets of fairness and integrity have helped her weather often stormy and hostile business climates.

One of the more humorous segments of the talk came when Dubinsky commented on her recent marriage to Shustek. "I'm 45, and he's 52, so between us, we've had 97 years of inexperience," Dubinsky said. "I'm just catching up with life now," she added. "I bought the china, adopted a daughter and then got a husband. It all comes out the same, so what's the big deal, really?"

The speaker also opined that one should have enough "go-to-hell-money" in order to walk away from a job, and that she regretted not being able to donate more of her time to the organized Jewish community.

"But I have been very generous with my money, and I've found that has been equally welcome," said Dubinsky to a tittering audience.