Women is...: Debi Coleman, CEO of Merix

Debi Coleman, CEO of Merix

profession: Chair and CEO of Merix Corp., a maker of integrated circuit boards and other parts for computer manufacturers, based in Forest Grove, Oregon.

company's annual revenue: $100 million.

the basic story: Corporate exec with an entrepreneurial streak. After initial stints at Hewlett-Packard, General Electric and Apple Computer, she went on to join Tektronix and to spin off a division into Merix in 1994.

born: Cumberland, R.I. on Jan. 22, 1953.
sheepskin: BA in literature from Brown. MBA from Stanford Business School.

claim to fame: On the team that developed the first Mac at Apple. "We absolutely believed in the power of individual computing," she says. "And we really did believe we could change the paradigm." Hey, if you're looking at this from a PC, not a mainframe, you know what she's talking about. On the way they took the Macintosh business from zero to $750 million in one year.

the encore: In 1992, Coleman joined Tektronix, led by former Apple CEO Del Yocam, as VP of the material operations division. After 15 months, she saw a quality in the printed circuit board division that reminded her of the Mac team. "I saw that they were capable of transforming themselves from a captive manufacturing arm operation into a vibrant, highly entrepreneurial, high-tech manufacturer."
the payoff: She spun off the division into its own company. Within a year of taking over the fledgling business -- and taking it public in 1994, revenue jumped 30%, up from a meager 2% to 3% per year. Profits surged 50%.
if she wasn't a CEO: She'd be a diva. Ideally, the divine Miss M. "I think Bette Midler is so phenomenally talented!" Coleman says. "I'd die to come back and be a star like that just for one day."

what she wanted to be as a kid: "I really wanted to be on the Supreme Court," she says, "until Watergate."

computer skills: Totally wired. Personally uses a Mac Powerbook. "I don't know how you live without e-mail," she laughs. "40% of our customer files come to us via FTP (file transfer protocol). It's a way we improve our responsiveness to our customers. We gotta be wired."
household: Lives in a downtown Portland apartment with her two Burmese cats.

advice to women today: "You've got to be online. I don't care if you major in history or psychology or mathematics, you've got to be computer- literate... I really worry that women are going to be left out of this latest computer revolution," she says, "And if you think that the wage gap is big now..."

how she networks: Founded the Silicon Valley Refugee Club, a group of, well, Valley refugees that meets periodically at restaurants around the Portland area. As Coleman says, "Gossip is important."