When Tom Siebel founded Siebel Systems in 1993, there was little market demand for software that would help organizations improve customer relationships. There was also a major obstacle to implementing the type of software he envisioned because no one had figured out how to reliably organize, synchronize, and share real-time data across intermittently connected nomadic computing devices. Undaunted, Siebel knew he could harness the power of new information and communication technologies-the Internet, broadband, and relational databases-and develop software that would enhance an organization's sales, marketing, and customer service operations. He had worked on distributed database problems as a computer science graduate student at Illinois in the early 1980s, and he had written similar software to manage his own sales force when he worked for Oracle Corporation. Siebel had a vision, identified a market opportunity that others did not, assembled a strong team of experts, and solved the data-integrity problem-and in the process created a new field that became known as customer relationship management (CRM). "Solving the data synchronization problem contributed more than anything else to the success of Siebel Systems," Siebel said. Siebel Systems released its first applications software in the summer of 1995. The company grew quickly and its products came to dominate the CRM market.
Fortune magazine named Siebel Systems the fastest-growing company in America in 1999 and 2000. Siebel himself was recognized by BusinessWeek magazine in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 as one of the top 25 Managers in Global Business. Siebel sold his company to Oracle in 2006 for $5.85 billion. He is currently chairman of First Virtual Group, a diversified holding company with interests in commercial real estate, agribusiness, global investment management, and philanthropy. Through the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation, Siebel brings the same intellectual curiosity, vision, leadership, and communication skills that he applied to his successful business ventures to bear on projects supporting the homeless and underprivileged, education and research, methamphetamine abuse prevention, and alternative energy solutions. Practicing what he calls strategic philanthropy, Siebel founded the Siebel Scholars programs in 2000, creating a community of future leaders from among the most talented students at the top graduate schools of business, computer science, and bioengineering. As part of the Siebel Scholars program, the University of Illinois received $2.6 million to endow the Scholars program, awarding its five best computer science graduate students a $35,000 fellowship each year.
The Scholars are the brain trust of the Siebel Foundation, conceiving and developing many of the innovative programs it funds. Each year, current and past Scholars gather with experts and world leaders to debate and discuss solutions to a major societal issue. The Scholars played a key role in helping formulate the idea behind the Meth Project following a conference on the U.S. criminal justice system in 2004.
The Meth Project started in Montana, where Siebel and his family live part of the year and where meth abuse was fifth highest in the nation. Since its launch in 2005, the program has dramatically decreased meth use and related crime through a series of graphic TV, radio, print, billboard, and Internet ads that warn young people: “Not Even Once." In 2006, the Meth Project received a White House Commendation for being the most influential drug program in the country, and Siebel earned a Leadership Award from the FBI. The Siebel Foundation has expanded the Meth Project to six other states with a meth crisis. Siebel's philanthropy has had a major impact on the University of Illinois campus, where he donated $32 million for the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science, a teaching and research facility on the engineering campus; and $4 million for faculty chairs in the History and Computer Science departments.
He has pledged an additional $100 million for research and education initiatives in alternative energy, bioengineering, and stem cell research. Siebel also shares his time and talent, serving as an advisor to both the College of Engineering and the University of Illinois Foundation. "The University of Illinois is one of the great engineering schools and one of the great universities," he said. "For those of us who've had an opportunity to participate-whether it's on the various boards or engineering leadership or foundation boards or as students or faculty-we're all privileged and fortunate to be able to play the game at such a high level with such talented, dedicated researchers and educators ... It just doesn't get any better than that."