Gemplus Group, the French smart card maker, has consolidated its North and South America divisions under a single president.

Dominique Trempont, formerly of NeXT Software Inc., fills the newly created post of president of Gemplus Americas.

Mr. Trempont, 42, will be based in San Mateo, Calif., directing sales, marketing, software engineering, manufacturing, mergers and acquisitions, and development of strategic alliances in the Americas.

Brigitte Baumann, president of Gemplus North America in Montgomeryville, Pa., and Bertrand Moussel, president of Gemplus South America, Mexico City, will report to Mr. Trempont. They had been reporting to Marc Lassus, founder and chief executive officer of the Gemenos, France-based chip card maker.

Many in the smart card industry have been expecting a surge of smart card growth in the United States, which has lagged Europe and Asia in terms of testing and deployment.

Card vendors have been making U.S. acquisitions and beefing up management in anticipation. An eagerly awaited milepost is a joint MasterCard-Visa test in New York City slated for the fourth quarter.

Industry observers said they see the hiring of Mr. Trempont as an indication of how seriously the biggest smart card maker is approaching the Americas.

A native of France, Mr. Trempont spent the last four years as chief financial officer of NeXT, the software company founded by Steve Jobs and recently acquired by Apple Computer Inc., which Mr. Jobs also founded.

Before that Mr. Trempont had spent 14 years at Raychem Corp., a $2 billion aerospace and electronics company based in California.

"I believe it is in the Americas that we'll see the biggest battleground and where the future of smart cards will be shaped," Mr. Trempont said in an interview. "If there is something that American companies know how to do, it's how to market technology, and once they understand the importance of it, they will jump in with both feet."

Luke A. Weinstein, executive vice president of Product Technologies Inc., Middletown, Conn., which develops smart card operating systems, said, "In order to succeed in smart card technology, or any technology, you have to be the predominant player in the United States."

"Everyone is getting ready for an explosion in the market," said Jerome Svigals, a Redwood City, Calif., consultant and smart card advocate. "Companies are trying to line up resources and know-how to be ready for the market as it develops."

Joseph F. Schuler, director of sales and marketing for a Gemplus rival, Schlumberger North America in Moorestown, N.J., said of Mr. Trempont's appointment, "It makes sense to have someone spearheading things here and overseeing product distribution and technology alliances. It's what everyone else is doing."

Mr. Trempont drew parallels between Gemplus and NeXT. He helped guide the latter toward its $430 million merger with Apple last December.

"Software will play an increasingly important role in the future of Gemplus, and NeXT has been doing the same thing," Mr. Trempont said.

"Global alliances" will also be important for Gemplus, he added, and "acquisitions will probably be critical."

Gemplus in recent years has acquired U.S. production capacity, and last summer it opened a smart card plant in Mexico.

"The potential of the American market is more certain with every passing quarter," said Benjamin L. Miller, chairman of Cardtech/Securtech, the Bethesda, Md., organizer of one of the major conferences in the field.

Gemplus is "trying to position itself to have a very strong voice."

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