Russ Wilcox Steps Down at E Ink—Smart Energy Venture Next?

[Updated 9:55 a.m. and 1:35 p.m., see below] Russell Wilcox, until recently the president and CEO at Cambridge, MA-based display technology pioneer E Ink, has left the company, Xconomy has learned.

In his 13 years with E Ink, Wilcox rose from the level of vice president of business development to the leadership helm, and engineered the sale of E Ink to Taiwan-based Prime View International (PVI) for $450 million last December.

As of this morning, E Ink’s website still lists Wilcox as president. However, e-mails to Wilcox’s E Ink address elicit an auto-reply stating that “as of February 26, 2010, Mr. Wilcox is no longer with E Ink.” Wilcox’s LinkedIn profile states that his work at E Ink ended in February.

[Update] E Ink spokesman Sri Peruvemba, reached by phone today, confirmed Wilcox’s departure. In reply to an e-mail inquiry, Wilcox told Xconomy this morning: “Yes I left E Ink at the end of last week after completing a transition and hand-off to PVI. It was the right moment to complete a super adventure for me, and E Ink will be in good hands under PVI CEO Scott Liu.”

Wilcox was the last member of the team that founded E Ink in 1997—which also included Joe Jacobson, Jerry Rubin, Barrett Comiskey, and J.D. Albert—to retain a senior management position. It is not known whether his departure is related to the PVI sale, although it is not unusual for a startup CEO to give up his or her role within the first year after an acquisition.

Named a New England Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 2009, Wilcox is credited with helping to raise $150 million in venture and strategic financing for E Ink and leading the company through a much-longer-than-expected period of technology and business development. As Wilcox explained in a lengthy interview with Xconomy in February 2009, it took about six years to create the first workable versions of E Ink’s signature electrophoretic displays, then to make them durable and robust under different operation conditions, and finally to make them affordable. It wasn’t until 2004, when Sony launched its Librié e-reader in Japan, that E Ink’s technology found a major outlet.

Wilcox became president and CEO of the company that year, and under his direction the company went on to become the leading supplier of monochrome displays to e-reader manufacturers, including Sony, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Plastic Logic. In fact, the publicity around the growth of Amazon’s Kindle e-reading platform brought so much attention to E Ink that many investors and other observers felt that PVI’s initial $215 million offer for the company was too low. A group of shareholders threatened to block the sale, and the Taiwanese firm eventually made a sweetened offer that included additional PVI stock. That stock subsequently increased in value much faster than expected, bringing the total value of the acquisition to roughly $450 million.

Wilcox earned a degree in applied mathematics from Harvard College in 1989, spent four years in the management consulting business with Corporate Decisions Inc., and returned to Harvard in 1993 to pursue an MBA, which he received in 1995. There is no indication so far about Wilcox’s plans for the future, but the motto in his LinkedIn page reads “you live to your fullest potential when you pursue a challenging dream that builds lasting value for others,” and a status update on the same page from last week states, “wondering how much energy could be saved if all plug outlets were intelligent.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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