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Sean Maloney, Intel

Sean M. Maloney loves a dare. The 47-year-old Intel Corp. (INTC) executive vice-president has swum across the Thames and cracked ribs racing down perilous ski slopes. In January, 2001, he accepted a new challenge. The head of the chipmaker's communications group set about helping to establish a global standard for wirelessly tapping the Net. The appeal is obvious: With one worldwide technology, you could travel from New York to New Delhi and use the same gear to cruise the Web. The goal had confounded the telecom industry for decades as rival companies rolled out a mishmash of competing technologies.

Maloney ultimately settled on an overlooked solution: Wi-Fi. The technology, which uses unlicensed spectrum to connect devices wirelessly, rapidly gained appeal among techies. But by combining Wi-Fi with a new low-power mobile processor, Maloney is bringing Wi-Fi to the masses. "The first wave of e-biz productivity was driven by the Web," he says. "The second is going to be driven by mobility and broadband."

Six months after unveiling its Centrino Wi-Fi chip and processor package with a $300 million marketing blitz, Intel has sparked renewed innovation and excitement in the computer and wireless industries. Not bad for a quest that at first seemed Quixotic.

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