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Tools of the trade

Bay area big shots talk about the gadgets that help them keep up with business.

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 1999


Lee Arnold is a chief executive who loves gadgets, depends on gadgets -- and doesn't miss a beat when his gadgets misbehave.

Calling from Naples, Fla., Arnold got cut off in mid-sentence on his digital cell phone. So he switched to his analog cell phone. Moments later, he got cut off again in mid-sentence. Finally, he tried the old faithful of telephones, the land line, to finish an interview.

"I am seriously addicted" to gadgets, said Arnold, chairman of the Colliers Arnold real estate company in Clearwater.

Arnold travels a lot and needs to stay in touch with the office and clients. A recent week found him in Toronto, New York, New Jersey and Florida.

"For me, I have to be connected or I simply can't function," said Arnold, whose passion for technology developed when he ran his own software company in the 1980s.

Arnold is among many top executives around Tampa Bay who are addicted to gadgets that give them the freedom to leave the office without losing contact. In an informal survey of bay area big shots and the devices they depend on, cell phones seem to be the gadget of choice. But there were other favorites, too.

"I am answering you on my nifty Toshiba Libretto, whose compact size and light weight make it excellent for a peripatetic traveler like me," Tech Data chief executive Steve Raymund wrote in an e-mail from his current base in Paris. He was waxing exuberant over a 2.5-pound mini-notebook computer that retails for about $1,700. "It's a critical tool for staying in touch."

Raymund, whose company is headquartered in Clearwater, also uses an Ericcson cell phone that works anywhere in Europe. He looks forward to a service that will allow him to download e-mail by phone.

Some executives on the go, such as Andrew May, chief executive of Paradyne in Largo, are frustrated by gadget clutter.

"I would like to get down to two gadgets -- my PC and a phone that has all my addresses and calendar that will sync with my PC (the same way a Palm Pilot works with a computer)," May said by e-mail. "The PC needs to work in (airline) coach, and the phone needs to be light enough to carry on my belt every day (even weekends)."

But May doesn't yet have his dream phone. So he carries three gadgets with him: the popular Palm Pilot, a cell phone and a laptop computer.

His laptop choice: a Toshiba Portege, which weighs about 3 pounds and retails for about $1,900.

"There is a lot of thinking behind this purchase," May wrote. "The Portege I have has a small enough screen that it can be used in any coach airline seat, even when the seat in front is reclined. When I am in coach, I notice too many people who cannot naturally use their laptop because the screen is too big."

While the Palm Pilot wins rave reviews and sets the standard for personal digital assistants, some top execs think the more compact Franklin Rex is a smarter choice. It is lighter on the hand (1.4 ounces to the Palm's 6 ounces) and the wallet ($200 or less, compared with $235 to $450 for the Palm Pilot).

Raymund, who ruined his Rex but plans to get another, said the Rex performs the same tasks as a Pilot "in a much more convenient package."

May also is thinking of ditching his Palm Pilot.

"I find it only helpful for addresses and calendar," May said. "And I frankly think it has more power and weight than I need for that application. I'm considering switching to the Rex product so I can truly carry it in my pocket. The Pilot is too heavy."

Andrew Barnes, editor, chairman and chief executive of the St. Petersburg Times, says he has been urged to get a personal digital assistant such as a Palm Pilot, but "I haven't yet understood why I'm interested."

Barnes carries a cell phone, which he uses mostly to make outgoing calls. He does not give out the number freely. "If it rings," he said, "it's something bad." He also uses an NEC ultralight computer, mainly for e-mail but also to handle work he otherwise would do in his office.

At Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, chief executive Tom James has three main gadgets: a Hewlett-Packard palmtop PC, a Dell laptop computer and a cell phone. The laptop is his favorite.

"He receives upwards of 100 e-mails a day that he tries to answer, even when on vacation," spokesman Larry Silver said.

Trying to catch up with the bay area's most prominent executive couple, not to mention their gadgets, proved a challenge. Adelaide "Alex" Sink, head of NationsBank's Florida operations, and her husband, Bill McBride, the managing partner for the Holland & Knight law firm in Tampa, are on the go a lot. Sink spends time in Tampa, Jacksonville and Charlotte, N.C., and the couple have sons at home in Tampa.

From New York, McBride relayed a message through his secretary that he has two main gadgets, a Libretto and one of the original Palm Pilots, which soon will be replaced with the new Palm V.

Sink called after getting off a plane and returning to her Tampa office. She has three gadgets: a cell phone, a car phone and a Palm Pilot.

"I rely on my car phone a lot," Sink said. "I try to use my time wisely when I'm on the road. . . . I can tell you every little place on the interstate where there's a fade out and fade back in."

She uses her Palm Pilot for scheduling, which eliminates the need for her secretary to match schedules on paper planners. In 30 seconds, her schedule is downloaded and updated.

"As a woman, I stick that Palm Pilot right into my purse rather than (carrying) a heavy Franklin Planner as I used to," Sink said. "I'm not married to having a briefcase. I love the size of it."

She says she is not a gadget person and relies on her gadgets mostly for professional use, not for family matters.

"I want to use the gadgets that really do help me with my life, instead of taking more time out of my life," she said. "We're not on the Internet at home, because I get enough e-mails at work. If people want to get me, they can get me at work . . . I just don't have time to spend on it."

Arnold, the real estate executive, says he tries new gadgets all the time. "You've got to be willing to change out stuff" as better inventions come out. "Anything that saves me time gets a look."

Some old gadgets are retired as outmoded, others as disappointments.

"I've got drawers full of them," Arnold said. "You try to forget them."

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