Kemper, Steve 1951-
KEMPER, Steve 1951-
Born November 25, 1951, in Louisville, KY; married Judith Kaufman (a fine art jeweler); children: Ben, Alex. Education: University of Detroit, B.A., 1973; University of Connecticut, Ph.D., 1980.
Home—West Hartford, CT. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Harvard Business School Publishing, 60 Harvard Way, Boston, MA 02163. E-mail—[email protected]
Freelance journalist. Taught literature and writing at the University of Connecticut during the 1980s.
W. Alton Jones Foundation grant for an environmental investigation of Bolivia; Best Business Book, strategy and business, Library Journal, and Book of the Month, Popular Science, both 2003, both for Code Name Ginger: The Story behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World.
Code Name Ginger: The Story behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World, Harvard Business School Press (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Smithsonian, National Geographic, Yankee, and Outside.
Steve Kemper has long been a freelance journalist, writing for national magazines, and particularly focusing on the outdoors and its inhabitants, from insects and reptiles to bighorn sheep and beluga whales. The assignment he accepted from Smithsonian in 1994, a profile of inventor-entrepreneur Dean Kamen, resulted in his book, Code Name Ginger: The Story behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World.
According to Code Name Ginger, Kamen, a college dropout, was already wealthy when Kemper met him, having invented the first insulin pump, the first portable kidney dialysis machine, and the surgical stents that are implanted to open clogged arteries. When Kamen began work on his Segway Human Transporter (the first battery-powered, self-balancing personal transporter), he offered Kemper free access at DEKA, his Manchester, New Hampshire, research and development facility. For eighteen months Kemper observed and took notes on the process, following the project from design to financing. It was the height of the Internet boom, and the project attracted investors like venture capitalist John Doerr, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple Computer. Doerr, who had already invested in more Internet businesses than anyone else, ended up being the only investor of the three. Kemper was working with the understanding that he would reveal nothing of what he saw or heard until the Segway went public.
According to Washington Post Book World reviewer Merritt Ierley, included in the book are anecdotes about the "deals made, deals unraveled, noses out of joint, noses stoically straightened—all of it skillfully and compellingly written.… Such detail about a single invention is rare. Biographies of inventors generally fill us in on their inventions, and rarely to the degree that Code Name Ginger does.… Kemper had extraordinary access to information then and there and arguably made the most of it." The book ends in January, 2001, when word of Segway's existence caused investors to demand that Kemper be ejected from the project.
The Segway made its debut in November, 2001, on the Good Morning America television show. What started out as a project to design a wheelchair that could access curbs and steps, and which its promoters had said would be the next great invention in transportation, had become, at five thousand dollars, a rather expensive two-wheeled toy that has been compared to a scooter.
The book portrays Kamen, whose life is lived only for his "thinking," to be "a complex and contradictory character, brilliant, passionate, and profoundly insular," noted Steve Lohr in the New York Times. Lohr felt that "the book's great strength … is its deft depiction of the craft of engineering, and the engineering mentality. I would have preferred a deeper look at the animating technology behind the Segway and its lineage, and a few drawings to help visualize the technology. But Mr. Kemper excels in describing the engineers and their passion for the job."
The Wall Street Journal's George Anders noted that the early chapters "are rich with stories about Mr. Kamen's zany brilliance and showmanship" and that "ironically, Mr. Kamen chose maximum secrecy for his project because he believed that some bigger company … would steal his ideas and beat him to market if it knew what was up. But that hush-hush approach invited two fundamental errors. The Segway team was painfully slow to assess what customers were willing to spend and how regulators would view sidewalk usage of this new machine.…And it failed to grasp that, by cleverly building up interest in a mysterious and supposedly revolutionary product, it had created expectations that could not be met."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Detroit Free Press, July 23, 2003, review of Code Name Ginger: The Story behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World.
Fortune, July 7, 2003, John Godfrey, review of Code Name Ginger.
Harvard Business Review, July, 2003, John T. Landry, review of Code Name Ginger.
Newsweek, May 12, 2003, Brad Stone, review of Code Name Ginger, p. 34.
New York Times, June 8, 2003, Steve Lohr, review of Code Name Ginger, section 3, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003, review of Code Name Ginger, p. 58.
Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2003, George Anders, review of Code Name Ginger, section D, p. 5.
Washington Post Book World, June 8, 2003, Merritt Ierley, review of Code Name Ginger, section T, p. 9.
Barnes and Noble Online Web site,http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (June 4, 2002), interview with Kemper.
Steve Kemper Home Page,http://www.stevekemper.net (June 4, 2004).*