Credit: Timothy Hughes

Bryan Chan, CEO, SupraNet Communications Inc.

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bryan Chan followed a counterintuitive route to become an information-technology executive. First, he ignored Silicon Valley to take a B.A. in English from UW-Madison. Then, instead of returning home to Los Altos and pursuing an advanced degree in computer science or electrical engineering, he stayed here and in 1994 launched SupraNet, an Internet service provider for local businesses.

Chan has staked the firm on core values like transparency and integrity. "I think in order to have innovation, you need to have honesty," he explains. Being open to feedback from clients, employees and the community is critical to building long-term customer loyalty and a corporate culture of constant improvement, he says.

"The nature of our business is very much in flux," notes Chan. "There's no book you can turn to. We're pretty much making this up as we go and trying to learn from our mistakes."

Chan perceived an opportunity to help Madison businesses establish a web presence as the Internet toppled local, regional, national and global parameters for commerce. He had an affinity for computers that may be attributable to his father's career as an electrical engineer, and had worked for a network consulting firm. "Really what I had was a lot of support from the community and our clients," he adds.

That support underpins his own commitment to community initiatives like Dane Buy Local. Having persevered through the collapse of the dot-com bubble, Chan is now pushing SupraNet to become what he calls "a thought leader" in efforts to mitigate the IT industry's vast cumulative carbon footprint.

"When people ask me what we do, I've told them that we convert coal into websites," he says. The joke is rueful: Beyond the energy consumed to power all their servers, Internet service providers also consume vast sums of electricity to cool their data centers.

SupraNet is striving to reduce its own power consumption by 20% per year, Chan says. "Our goal is to take Internet services off the grid eventually."

- David Medaris