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Reaching New Heights

In both her personal and professional life, Laura Rippy tackles unexplored territory.

By Susana Schwartz

It's a long way from the chilly peaks of the Himalayas to the flatlands of Texas, but for Laura Rippy, there are challenges in both that transcend geographic boundaries. Last year, Rippy completed an arduous 100-mile trek in Bhutan, which culminated in an ascent to a 17,000-foot peak in the Himalayas. "It really made me realize what it takes to survive in a harsh climate replete with constraints and challenges," she says.

The same tenacity that helped her enter and survive in Bhutan--where only 1,000 outsiders are allowed access yearly--has helped her flourish as CEO of Handango, a company that offers handheld wireless solutions, including hardware, software and accessories.

"As CEO, I must know my company's mission statement. We know we want to serve business professionals who use handhelds--whether Palm-, Pocket PC-, Symbian- or RIM-based," notes Rippy, who markets esoteric software pre-loaded on Handango devices to lawyers, accountants, consultants, doctors and sales professionals.

In April, Rippy rolled out services to support the distribution of handhelds to field forces. "We developed the Handango Business Solutions Center to help businesses find, deploy and manage handheld devices, software, accessories and wireless services for their organizations through portal pages," she says.

In Bhutan, Rippy knew the distance, time and resources necessary to reach her destination. "With Handango, I know I want to evangelize wireless platforms in the same way Microsoft did for pocket PCs." She believes it's possible, since she gained that same understanding of how to bring software applications to the market during her stint as leader of e-commerce sales for Microsoft in Texas.

"I want to be a catalyst, bringing wireless developers and applications to business professionals over the Internet," she relates. "There is unexplored territory in the way people want to be mobile and wireless, in the way they want to access e-mail and corporate data."

Rippy predicts that by this time next year, all handheld devices will be wireless. "Eventually, they will figure out they can get more than just calendar or contact information," says Rippy, as she outlines the evolution of wireless. "First, there were calendaring and datebook applications. Next, we'll have universal applications like e-mail, with an underlying database and some document management tools for reading documents on the handheld. Then, we'll move on to more robust applications, such as spreadsheets or billing."

As these applications become indispensable, Rippy believes handhelds will replace laptops as field professionals' main computers. "This is already evidenced in certain applications, such as FieldLink, a suite used for tracking field tasks, where professionals collect data or perform maintenance checks. There's OnHand, which, through a bar code scanner, enables people to track inventory with a Palm device."

The nurturing necessary to cultivate the natural environment also parallels that necessary to develop a customer base, says Rippy. "I've learned you have to respect the customer first and foremost to survive in the long run, just as you have to respect Mother Nature. Only then can you tightly integrate product development and marketing, enabling new ideas to roll out quickly."

As a leader, Rippy feels it's important to promote creativity among team members and keep them interested so they don't lose focus. She does this by promulgating an atmosphere of what she deems "happy chaos." Certainly, when you walk into Handango, the atmosphere is anything but corporate. "There are people sitting elbow-to-elbow, tossing Nerf balls, playing Ping-Pong or scribbling on whiteboards."

Rippy's survival in business, as in her excursions, depends on teamwork. "Out there, you have to choose the most durable and reliable equipment, not to mention people with the tenacity and persistence to reach the top."

Finding great people is difficult, she notes, especially when bushwhacking toward something never-before seen. "In the Himalayas, I was amazed at how much our six-member team could achieve through teamwork," she says. "Here, I have 60 people who are passionate about the future of wireless, so the sky's the limit."

Copyright 2004 Leisure Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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