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The Most Important People in Mass Customization 2005-2006

2006-01-01: Within any aspect of life, it is inevitable that certain people will frequently come to public attention, because their work or position influences the direction of events. Many business magazines list the most successful companies of the year, and the most successful or richest people. This website is a business news site, which just happens to focus very closely on a particular business strategy. It's called mass customization. Even within this niche, there are individuals who are making a significant contributions to the development and popularisation of the mass customization business model, whose work deserves to be recognised. Of course, being listed by a small website is little reward for years of hard work, but we will proceed nonetheless.

Some of those on the list are well-known names from very large companies, who have made decisions that bring the mass customization model to their existing customers. Others will be well known among the 'mass customization community' (those people who carry out research relating to mass customization, in the same way that early management writers studied 'scientific management' and the then-newfangled idea of 'mass production'), but perhaps are not well-known in the wider business world. And there are those who, simply by virtue of their work or position, are opening up new possibilities for products and services based around the individual, inverting the conventional wisdom of making a product and then trying to find customers that fit.

The course of business doesn't fit neatly into twelve month pockets. That is why the list spans 2005-2006, because some of those on the list have made a major impact during the year just ended, and others are working on ideas and businesses that have not yet come to fruition, but are likely to have a major impact in their sector in the near future.

In a few cases, there are joint entries where two people work closely together to make a particular contribution to the development of mass customization.

Those included on this list are not ranked, principally due to the varying nature of their roles, which makes such comparisons difficult. The list is decided by the editor of this website, based on continual monitoring of events and developments that influence the course of mass customization and personalization.

Readers may have their own opinions about other people who should have been included, and they are welcome to use the forum on this website to express their views.

So, in random order, here are the Most Important People in Mass Customization for 2005-2006:

Mitchell M. Tseng is Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Prof. Tseng co-chaired the 2005 World Congress on Mass Customization, which was hosted at the HK-UST. The AMI is the most prominent centre of research in Asia into developments in mass customization. Dr. Tseng has been publishing research on mass customization topics since the mid-1990's, and, with Frank Piller, founded the International Institute of Mass Customization and Personalization in 2003. He is an honorary editor of the International Journal of Mass Customization.

John Doerr and Ram Shiram are venture capitalists with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sherpalo Ventures respectively. During 2005 they invested $16Million in Zazzle, an online supplier of personalized products. While significant for Zazzle, the investment might not be seen as being relevant to the wider mass customization world, until you look at the track record of Doerr and Sharam. They were early investors in an internet start-up called...Google. The fact that they chose to invest in a personalization company drew a huge amount of attention from the mainstream business media to the sector as a whole. It drew attention to the growing popularity of personalized goods and the potential for growth in companies like Zazzle.

Jeff Bezos is CEO of online retailing giant Amazon. During 2005, the company announced that it would make it possible for customers to buy online individual chapters or even individual pages of a particular book. This 'mass customization' of reading presents a huge opportunity to aid the dissemination of knowledge from printed books, particularly non-fiction content. A particular section or page of a book will be available to buy on Amazon, at a large discount to buying the whole book. A major benefit of this idea is that it enables greater opportunity of learning among those of lower income, who will have greater opportunity to buy sections of textbook content online as required.

Kevin Rollins is CEO of Dell has had something of a difficult year, with poor satisfaction ratings in the area of customer support, and slowing earnings growth. The consensus in mainstream business media was that Dell had simply grown so big that it could not sustain the same levels of growth as before. When someone is explaining mass customization, Dell is nearly always the first example that they will use. Despite the company's relatively difficult year, the Dell CEO is always likely to appear in this list due to its continuing success in implementing the mass customization model. It will be interesting to watch how Kevin Rollins will direct Dell during 2006. A likely course is to move further into business hardware, where margins are somewhat higher than in the consumer PC sector.

Frank Piller is based at the MIT Sloan School of Management (BPS/Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group) and at the TUM Research Center Mass Customization & Customer Integration of the Technische Universitaet, Muenchen, Germany. Dr. Piller was co-Chairman of the 2005 World Congress on Mass Customization in Hong Kong. He has written a number of books on mass customization and has contributed many papers and articles relating to mass customization and open innovation. He runs the longest-established website dedicated to mass customization issues, and publishes it in both German and English. Recently he adopted the popular 'blogging' platform on his website for publishing his views on mass customization. He is also a founding partner of ThinkConsult, a German-based consultancy that advises companies on providing customer value profitably.

Michel Byvoet and Carine Moitier are co-founders of custom shirt maker Bivolino. Moitier is Chief Operations Officer of Bivolino and Michel Byvoet is the owner of both Bivolino and the related product configuration software provider Shirtsdotnet. Bivolino markets its customized shirts under its own name on the website, but also manufactures for other retailers who use Shirtsdotnet in-store kiosks. Shirtsdotnet kiosks are placed in over 200 European retail outlets, where customers can design their shirt in the store. Details are then sent directly to Bivolino for manufacture. Byvoet and Moitier have not followed the conventional path of using an external software provider for their product configuration system. The reward for this strategy is that they can market a combined configuration software and manufacturing service to other brands, generating new revenue opportunities for the group.

Ray Ozzie is Chief Technical Officer at Microsoft. While Bill Gates is the public face of the company, it is Ray Ozzie who is most likely to directly oversee the development of Microsoft's personalized media delivery systems. It has recently become known in the technology market that Microsoft is planning to develop personalized internet protocol television (IPTV) systems, that will allow a user to view media content at any time, on any device, from a PDA to the largest home theatre screen.

Jim Lewis is CEO of, the machine shop designed for the Internet. Lewis formed the company to provide easy, convenient and low-cost fabrication of custom parts via the web. The company has expanded its capabilities significantly during 2005. Over 30 different types of machining processes are now available, and Emachineshop is the first 'online factory' to receive widespread media coverage. During 2005, Lewis' company was featured in publications like Design News and USA Today. A lot more is likely to be heard of Jim Lewis in the coming year.

Fred Durham and Maheesh Jain are, respectively, Co-Founder and CEO, Co-Founder and VP of Business Development at Headquartered in Foster City, California, is an online marketplace that offers sellers complete e-commerce services to independently create and sell a wide variety of products, and offers buyers unique merchandise across virtually every topic. The company's network of independent online shopkeepers has grown to an astounding two million members. Customers can also design products to purchase themselves. Over 18 million items have been designed by CafePress members and customers. More often than not, has been one of the companies highlighted whenever mainstream media writers discuss the growing popularity of product personalization.

Robert Beaver is chief executive officer of Zazzle. In 1999, Zazzle began pioneering new printing technologies enhanced with proprietary, automated manufacturing systems to produce high-quality, on-demand products. The website was launched in 2003 to test the user experience. Since then, Zazzle has continued to innovate by improving manufacturing efficiencies, expanding the online customer experience and growing its online community. Customers can personalize products for themselves or design products for marketing through their own websites. Zazzle was most in the news during 2005 due to the investment of $16million by the same venture capitalists who were early investors in Google. This vote of confidence in Zazzle was also a boost for personalization concept as a whole, drawing much media attention to the growing popularity of designing products online for purchase or reselling.

Maciej Piotrowski and Robert Freund have established a portal website to address the development of mass customization in Eastern Europe. Piotrowski and Feund are chairs of the organising and scientific committees for the 2nd International Conference on Mass Customization and Personalization in Central Europe, to be held in Rzeszow, Poland in May 2006. Piotrowski is based in the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, and Freund operates EastWest Consult, a consultancy based in Burgwald, Germany. During 2005, they published a paper focusing on the factors influencing the introduction of the mass customization strategy in Eastern Europe. With the recent accession of ten East European countries to the European Union, there will be many new opportunities for business in those countries. The work of Maciej Piotrowski's and Robert Freund is likely to be a significant influence in the development of mass customization strategies among enterprises in the 'new Europe'.

Robert Holloway is CEO of Archetype Solutions, which supplies product configuration software for the clothing sector. He is included on this list due to the number of high-profile apparel brands that have chosen Archetype Solutions for their customized clothing websites. The company's clients include Sears/LandsEnd, JC Penney, Target and Tommy Hilfiger. To be able to supply such high profile references will give Archetype an advantage in competing for business among other top level clothing brands in the future.

Charles Ribaudo and Jim Young are the founders of Jambo Networks, the online service where people can create a personalized online profile for themselves, download it to their laptop/PDA/phone, and subsequently receive alerts when someone with similar interests is nearby. This 'proximity matching' service uses either wi-fi or mobile phone triangulation to determine when another Jambo Networks member with similar interests is in the user's vicinity. The concept has a lot of potential and could turn the 'social internet' into the 'real-time mobile social internet'.

William Perez is President and CEO of Nike. The footwear and sportwear giant has continued to develop the Nike ID customization service, making it available to online customers in Europe for the first time. Nike ID range has also been expanded with new product lines. Nike ID, which was originally launched in the late 1990's, still continues to develop today. This is in contrast to the early attempts at customization by some other well known brands, which were quietly wound up after a few years. For sticking to their guns, Nike deserve credit.

Janet Woodcock is Deputy Commissioner of Operations and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2005, she was the first recipient of the Personalized Medicine Coalition's Leadership in Personalized Medicine Award. Of particular importance was her work relating to the Guidance on Pharmacogenomic Data Submissions. The Guidance, which Dr. Woodcock directed, was issued in March 2005 to guide the timing and content of submissions to the FDA for pharmacogenomic-derived investigational new drug applications (INDs), new drug applications (NDAs), and biologics license applications (BLAs). In addition, the Guidance is designed to provide information on how and when data will be used in regulatory decision-making.

David A. Bruner, and Judson H. Early are, respectively, Vice President, Technology Development and Corporate Vice President, Research at [TC]2 ("TC squared"), the non-profit research organization that specialises in technology development and supply chain improvement for the apparel and related softgoods industries. Dr. Bruner manages hardware and software R&D projects including the development and commercialization of [TC]2's 3D full body scanner and automatic body measurement extraction software. Judson H. Early has led the organization's development of 3D body measurement technology and is a strong advocate of mass customization. The 3D Body Scanner developed by [TC]2 scans the whole human body in less than 6 seconds and produces a true-to-scale 3D body model within minutes. Scanners have been installed in stores such as Hugo Boss in New York, and Selfridges in London. As with many new technologies, body scanning is being adopted on a piecemeal basis by retail brands, but is likely to grow rapidly in popularity once it has been shown to provide benefits to businesses and customers.

Mark Hansen is Director of LEGO Interactive Experiences, the division of the LEGO toy company that developed LEGO Factory, where fans of LEGO can download LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) and design their own LEGO toys. They can then purchase the LEGO components to create their own design. The company has also held a competition where the toy designers can submit their designs to the company for possible inclusion in the main catalogue. This makes the users of the system designers for the wider market, which is a good example of what is called 'user innovation'.

Kent Larson and Todd Benson are principals in the OPEN Prototype Home Project, which aims to develop new methods of modular construction in the homebuilding industry. Kent Larson is director of Changing Places, a joint MIT Department of Architecture and Media Laboratory research consortium. He also runs the associated House_n consortium and the MIT Open Source Building Alliance within the Department of Architecture. Todd Benson is the owner of Bensonwood Homes, a specialist timber frame construction company that is actively involved in developing new methods to move house construction towards a mass customization model.

Ping Fu is CEO of GeoMagic, a 3D modelling software company. She was recently named as Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year. The company develops software for digital shape sampling and processing (DSSP), which involves scanning an object with optical beams, and subsequently rendering it as a 3D image on a computer screen. These systems have applications in manufacturing, testing, and inspection purposes, but most significantly, can make it more economic to localise manufacturing close to the customer rather than in an overseas low wage location. This could yet be of significant benefit to the widespread adoption of mass customization, where delivery times can be the critical factor for a potential consumer of customized products.

Marissa Mayer is Vice President, Search Products & User Experience at Google. Of particular interest is Google's development of the 'Personalized Homepage' during 2005, where users can select the content that they want to appear on their own Google page. While Google is by no means the first big internet site to offer a personalization option, their current dominance of the web search market makes their personalization offering more significant, as it will reach many millions of internet users. Google have also made available an Application Programming Interface (API), enabling developers to create 'Gadgets' for personalized homepages. Gadgets are a sort of 'mini-application' that can be added to a personalized page, to carry out some function for the user. A huge secondary market (both free and commercial) for these Gadgets will emerge during 2006.

Cipriano Forza is a professor of management and operations management at the Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia (Italy) and at the Universita di Padova (Italy). He is the lead researcher in the Customization Experts project, which funded by the European Union Leonardo programme. The Customization Experts project has researched the human resource requirements of the Mass Customization Manufacturing strategy. The research has been undertaken in five countries over the course of two years. The Project research team has been conducting two studies, to identify the competencies required for Mass Customization, and has used the results to develop training programmes.

Thorsten Blecker and Gerhard Friedrich are co-chairs of the joint conferences: International Mass Customization Meeting (IMCM'06) and the International Conference on Economic, Technical and Organizational Aspects of Product Configuration Systems (PETO'06), to be held in Hamburg, Germany in June 2006. Prof. Dr. Blecker is Professor for Business Administration, especially Information Management in Business Logistics, at the Department of Business Logistics and General Management in Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), and the Hamburg School of Logistics (HSL) in Germany. Prof. Dr. Friedrich is Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Manufacturing at the University Klagenfurt in Austria. They have jointly written 'Mass Customization: Challenges and Solutions' which will be published in 2006, and are editing 'Mass Customization Information Systems in Business' which will also be published in the coming year.

Ed Iacobucci has recently founded DayJet, a specialist airline that plans to use a fleet of 200 six-seat 'mini-jets', and a dynamic scheduling system to fly small groups of customers from and to almost any locations within the U.S. Iacobucci is a former CEO of server software company Citrix Systems. At DayJet, he intends to implement a highly sophisticated booking system, which can adapt schedules and pricing based on fluctuating demand. This new model of airline management, focusing on the immediate needs of very small groups of customers, has been dubbed 'Aggregated Customization'. If DayJet is successful, their business model could yet be applied to many other industries.

David Mingle is President of Chrome Systems, which supplies product configuration systems for the automotive industry in North America. The company's VIN Search software provides data to finance houses on the specification of a vehicle, based on its identification number, and thus provide an accurate assessment of its value. This information can be used for vehicle financing. However, it also establishes an important principle, which could be expanded to other industries in future: Specialist online applications can be used to provide lending agencies with specification data on big-ticket mass customized product which require loan financing. In a future, for example, a mortgage provider could look up the specification of a mass customized house, based on the manufacturer's identification number, and calculate an accurate value for the new home immediately.

Russell Harris is a Lecturer in Manufacturing Technology in the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Loughborough University, England. Dr. Harris is currently leading a two year research programme into the use of rapid prototyping for the direct manufacture of tailor made implants for bone replacement and tissue growth. The new implants would be made from a mixture of a polymer and a bioactive ceramic, which are used for bone implants and tissue scaffolds due to their ability to bond with natural bone. The use of RP allows physical parts to be created immediately, directly and automatically from a 3D representation, which would significantly cut the time required for reconstructive surgery.

John E. Potter is United States Postmaster General and CEO of the U.S. Postal Service. During 2005, the USPS took the decision to re-launch its personalized postage programme, where postal service resellers can offer their customers the option of creating their own personalized stamp designs. Although personalized stamps are a very basic example of mass customization, re-introductiing them helps to promote the concept of personalized products in the World's largest consumer market.

Marc Benioff is Chairman and CEO of, the on-demand CRM solution provider. offers enterprises a CRM application that requires no software installation, as it is completely web-based. The company has recently partnered with a number of third-party suppliers of product configuration solutions, who supply on-demand configuration systems as add-ons to the main system. The power of in the CRM software market has meant that even significant configuration software vendors such as Firepond, Selectica and Big Machines have developed applications that integrate with's core application.

George Q. Huang is based in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at The University of Hong Kong. Dr. Huang is Editor-in-Chief of the new International Journal of Mass Customization, of which the first issue was recently published. This new academic journal, the first to be dedicated exclusively to issues relating to mass customization, will be an important outlet for research on this topic in the coming years.

Edit - Additional entries 7 January 2006

Scott Gatz is Yahoo!'s Senior Director of Personalization Products. He drives strategy and manages product development for key personalization features across the Yahoo! network and is responsible for the popular My Yahoo! service. Gatz is also responsible for the Company's content syndication/RSS initiatives and leads the team that redesigned My Yahoo! around RSS and integrated RSS into Yahoo! Mobile and Yahoo! News.

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