PATRICIA GALLUP, 45 Chairman and CEO of PC Connection
Present life: CEO of PC Connection, a $732 million direct marketer of personal computers and related products in Merrimack, N.H. PC Connection went public in March 1998.
Former life: Gallup worked as a field archaeologist for the Public Archaeology Survey Team, a for-profit business that surveyed lands to ensure their compliance with laws protecting cultural resources. Gallup specialized in primitive technology, specifically the tools humans used 30,000 years ago. "Part of our work was making sure cultural resources weren't destroyed as part of a building project. So some analysis was important to determine how unique or large a site was. Was it just a stopping point for hunter-gatherer tribes, or was it a settlement?"
Lessons learned: "Once you determine the age and use of the tools, you can see how the tools evolved and start pulling together the whole picture. When the atlatl, a type of spear-throwing device that came before the bow, was invented, it was for some reason: they were hunting in smaller groups, and they needed to catch game that moved faster--the spear alone just wouldn't do it anymore. You can use that analogy to develop tools in today's world when what you're using just isn't good enough."
Understanding how environmental changes led to technological innovations gave Gallup the confidence to start a mail-order computer company in 1982, just as the first PCs were being released. "We recognized very quickly that people could be more efficient with them, that they'd be invaluable. The industry just didn't know how to relate to novice users. And as a nontechnophile, I was sensitive to what type of support and assistance a new user would need to have. We had to wait six months to get our first computer. And we knew there just had to be a faster, easier way to get things."