At Large: Our lines are now open
- 31 March, 1999 13:05
Taking advantage of this great offer, Matthew JC. Powell knows you want more . . .
Are you tired of being the world's biggest Internet service provider but completely lacking credibility in the online community? Frustrated that browsers with your brand name are used on millions of computers, but you're not regarded outside your home country as a major player in the browser market? Frustrated that, no matter how much money you throw at creating and providing content for your online service, anyone who isn't one of your direct customers wouldn't look at it in a pink fit?
Here's your solution: a company with nothing but credibility in the online community. A company that gives its products away, but is worth billions. A company whose Web site is visited by customers all over the world, regardless of what ISP they're with. It's a portal, it's a design company, it's a high-profile developer, all in one handy unit. How much would you expect to pay?
But wait, there's more. As well as a major "cool" brand name for consumers, you also get a solid presence with enterprise buyers, at no extra cost. Yes, this one-time offer for Netscape Communications is only open to the first, say, one caller and will never be repeated.
And the price? All this can be yours for only 12 easy quarterly payments of one hundred million United States dollars, plus $6.95 shipping and handling. That's right, just 12 easy payments. Act now, and we'll send you a free book of pink slips, a copy of Spike Milligan's Hitler: My part in his downfall and a DVD of How I won the war. California residents add 2 per cent sales tax.
Goodbye to all that
The big news, as I'm writing this, is that Jim Barksdale has decided to hang up his spurs and say goodbye, not only to Netscape, but to his career in management. It seems that, with AOL's offer to purchase the company having been accepted, he feels his work is done. AOL has announced that a full 30 per cent of the people now working for Netscape won't be working for AOL, and Barksdale has elected to be one of them.
And I say, in the parlance of Aussie mateship, "too right". Not that I have anything against Barksdale, mind you. Quite the opposite. Netscape Communications was to the Internet revolution what Apple was to the personal computer revolution - the rebel, the misfit, the outsider, the round peg in a square hole. Barksdale was, in many ways, John Sculley to Marc Andreessen's Jobs and Wozniak.
My estimation of Barksdale increased dramatically with revelations in the opening days of the Microsoft trial that he and AOL's Steve Case had played a fantasy game pitching themselves as Roosevelt and Stalin against Bill Gates as Hitler. What's more, he testified under oath, he wanted to be Winston Churchill, but Case wouldn't let him. Any high-powered IT industry CEO who's willing to testify to such a thing in open court gets points in my book.
No, I say "too right" (in quotation marks because I would never actually say it) because it's about time one of these billionaire CEOs got sensible. Given the magnitude of the price AOL is paying for Netscape, you'd have to presume that Barksdale's parachute is not merely golden, but lined with diamonds. Too many times I've seen these top managers guide their companies towards the business nirvana of a friendly takeover replete with dollars flowing like wine, only to turn around, grab another company and start over.
I don't know about you, but if someone came and offered me a billion dollars for my company, I'd take it. Then I'd skip to Majorca before anyone realised I don't actually own the company, but that's another story. My point is, once I had that billion, I'd be pretty keen to laze out the rest of my days on an island somewhere. Heck, I'd take half a billion (offers, anyone?).
Someone taking a golden parachute worth millions and millions of dollars and then deciding to keep working 18-hour days in one of the more stressful industries instead of spending time with families and loved ones (families on weekdays, loved ones on weekends) makes no sense to me. In much the same way as whatever twit decided it would be a good idea to bring four rabbits along with the First Fleet makes no sense to me. Much the same way as my throwing in that factoid makes no sense to you.
Barksdale riding off into the sunset with his head held high and his reputation intact, on the other hand, makes sense. Farewell, Jim, it's been fun. I hope I never see you again.