Thomas M. Siebel, Siebel Systems

Appearances matter to Thomas M. Siebel. Although he is a brash Silicon Valley CEO who flies his own jet to his Montana ranch, he prefers his namesake software company sans flash--buttoned-up and tranquil, more IBM than Oracle.

But don't mistake the calm for complacency. Siebel Systems Inc. (SEBL) has emerged as the leader of the hottest tech sector: software that manages customer relations. In just seven years, Siebel has zoomed past the $1 billion mark--faster than any other software maker, Microsoft Corp. included. Revenues for 2000 are expected to top $1.6 billion, nearly twice the 1999 total. Sales of customer-management software should continue to grow as much as 70% in 2001, say analysts, despite the overall slowdown in tech spending. That sort of demand should sustain Siebel Systems' growth as long as it "shows respect for the customer," Siebel says.

Indeed, he has a ready explanation for the company's growth: his well-known obsession with customer service. No software gets written until customers weigh in. Outside consultants routinely poll clients on their satisfaction, and compensation is heavily based on those reports. Siebel, 48, has succeeded with a conservative approach that's downright subversive in Silicon Valley.

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