Marc Lassus doesn't take "no" for an answer. In the 1980s, his engineering team at France's Thomson Semiconductors developed a prototype "smart card" with a microchip to store data and record transactions. But he couldn't persuade his bosses to manufacture it. So in 1988, with Thomson's blessing, he started his own company, Gemplus. Today, it's the world's biggest manufacturer of smart chips, used in everything from cell phones to credit cards. Sales topped $817 million last year.
Lassus, 61, is now developing chips for computers and Web-enabled cell phones that will carry out e-commerce transactions and prevent fraud. To finance his ambitions, Lassus recently snared a $500 million investment from the Texas Pacific Group, a private equity firm.
His challenge is to keep smart chips from becoming a low-margin commodity. "The key is to develop value-added products," he says. "And if we don't do it, somebody else will." Lassus should know: After all, Gemplus got its start by grabbing an opportunity that Thomson passed up.