February 2011: T. Russell Shields '59
Posted February 1, 2011
T. Russell Shields ’59 is a businessman and entrepreneur extraordinaire. He has spent the past 40 years creating and developing companies that have helped define entire segments of information-technology-based business, such as call centers, data mining, and computer map databases.
Having amassed enough credits to graduate after his upper mid year at Hotchkiss, Shields left Lakeville and received a B.A. from Wichita State University. He then matriculated at the University of Chicago, where he broadened his education with an M.A. in history, followed by an M.B.A.
Shields has had the remarkable ability to be in the right place at the right time. At age 16, he got a summer job at a bank that had just gotten its first computer. The other staff there looked to Shields to teach them how to use it. While a student in Chicago, Shields worked with computers at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). It was only the beginning of his long career in software technology.
Shields founded his first business in Chicago in 1969. Shields Enterprises International (SEI), an IT consulting organization, built many pioneering, high-speed, high-volume, data-management-and-transaction processing systems, including Time Inc.’s subscription systems, Motorola’s worldwide engineering network, and Budget Rent A Car’s property management system. SEI also developed real-time fulfillment systems for companies including Time-Life, TV Guide, and National Geographic. SEI’s government operations division helped develop fundamental systems for the U.S. Veterans Administration, the Social Security Administration, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The new technology that SEI developed produced new companies. Both of the SEI consulting organizations were later sold in profitable leveraged management buyouts and still exist today. SEI also founded Cellular Business Systems, Inc. (CBSI), the first company to provide billing services to the U.S. cell phone industry. Before it was sold in 1986, CBSI grew from a startup to having more than a 90 percent market share among non-wireless carriers in the top 30 markets.
In 1985, SEI helped to launch Navigation Technologies (now Navteq), pioneering the development of the world’s most comprehensive, navigable map database and routing tools and the leading provider of map databases and related software for location service applications. Shields served as CEO until 2000, as a board member until 2004, and as an adviser to the CEO until 2008. Under his leadership, Navteq grew to more than a 65 percent market share in Europe and the U.S. This technology became central to MapQuest.com and other in-vehicle navigation systems worldwide. In 2008, Navteq was acquired by Nokia in an all-cash transaction for $8.1 billion.
SEI also developed a revolutionary in-store system that supported all basic business functions for McDonald’s. This led McDonald’s to ask SEI to provide technical support for the new technology, which grew into a global operation. SEI currently provides customized call center and managed business services to major multi-location corporations through service centers in the U.S., Germany, Hungary, and China. In 2010, the businesses that had supported McDonald’s were sold to the McDonald’s Corporation in a profitable cash transaction.
Shields is currently the founder and chair of Ygomi LLC, created in 2000 to be the parent company of SEI and affiliated businesses. Ygomi delivers innovative software and technology-based services, employing approximately 500 people in 9 countries. The Ygomi companies also include Connexis and ArrayComm, which are both creating technologies to support new directions in business. Connexis works in worldwide partnership with vehicle and electronics manufacturers to build comprehensive, flexible solutions for vehicle data communications, with a primary emphasis on advancing safety and reducing cost. Connexis is currently helping develop systems to support electric vehicles. ArrayComm is the world leader in digital signal processing solutions for wireless broadband systems.
Shields notes, “Our companies are currently working in three areas. We are working to improve the performance of wireless broadband and to solve the tremendous problems of overburdened wireless systems caused by smart phone usage; we are partnering with the automobile industry to connect multimedia -- over the next five years, even low-end cars will come with applications; and we are developing back-end support for electric vehicles, which will become mainstream. Generally speaking,” says Shields, “we will continue to see the evolution of the merger of computer communications, entertainment, and business. For instance, I grew up a Red Sox fan, and I can now watch games from all over the world when I travel.”
Founder of the organization that became the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), Shields also served as the first president of the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C). He served two terms as chair of the Committee on Communications of the Transportation Research Board (National Research Council) and was a founding officer and director of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America). He was a founder and is a director of the ITS World Congress. Shields received the 1998 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)-Delco Electronics Intelligent Transportation Systems Award and was named an SAE Fellow in 2007. He was inducted into the inaugural class of America’s ITS Hall of Fame in 2008 and was named the inaugural U.S. member of the ITS World Congress Hall of Fame in 2010. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business awarded Shields the 2008 Distinguished Entrepreneurial Alumni Award.
When asked about his business achievements, Shields credits his success to his people. “All the ideas come from somewhere, but they are executed by my employees. When hiring, we look for people who want to accomplish something new, above and beyond the normal expectations. I have the ability to build relationships and that results in great employees.” Shields is proudest of the fact that he has created jobs. “Many of my employees from the early years are now comfortably retired. My success is the success of the people who work for me.”
A mid-westerner at heart, Shields says his parents sent him to Hotchkiss to be challenged. “I was exceptionally bored at school. At Hotchkiss, I was surrounded by kids who were smarter than I. Though I was always gifted at math, I was poor at English, but at Hotchkiss I learned how to write and analyze, and how to present new ideas. That certainly serves me well today.”