Eric Benhamou is a networking industry pioneer. Eric served as the CEO of 3Com from September 1990 until December 31, 2000, and since then, has been its Chairman. 3Com acquired Palm during his tenure as CEO, and later spun it out. For a while, Eric also served as the CEO of Palm, and later its Chairman. In this series, we are going to focus on Eric’s experience as “a young punk” turning around 3Com. Later, in a separate series, we will explore the history of Palm, as told by one of the most well-respected Silicon Valley executives. Steve Jobs had invited him to the Board of Apple, and President Clinton appointed him to chair the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee which advises the President on federal R&D programs to maintain United States’ leadership in advanced technologies.
SM: Eric, where were you born, and what kind of environment did you grow up in? What propelled you to where you are today. EB: I was born in a small village between Algeria and Morocco in the mid 1950’s at a time when the whole region was going through wars. The Algerian war was breaking up at the time, and there was increasing amount of tension between the Algerian population and the French. This forced all of the Jewish population in the region to leave between the 1950’s and the early 1960’s. We were part of the massive exodus. There were three destinations: Israel, France and the US / Canada. Our family went to France which is where I went to primary school and high school. As I grew up in France, I felt moderately comfortable, but not terribly comfortable. Clearly I did grow up in the French culture; French was my mother tongue. As I became a teenager I was no longer sure that I wanted to live there.
SM: What was the driving factor? EB: There were two circumstances. First, being Jewish in France is not always fun. You clearly do not feel welcome. More importantly, I felt that I had an entrepreneurial chord at a very young age. I wanted to start things. I was the one to start clubs, groups and movements at school. I realized that this kind of attitude was not very welcome. France was not favorable to entrepreneurial thinking because there is a certain amount of irreverence in being an entrepreneur. You are saying you are not satisfied with the way things are so you are going to do it better.