The Day Ahead: Dot-coms grow up, chief execs step out

There are visionaries and there are those who like to get down to the nitty gritty of everyday operations. It's about time dot-coms realised the difference...
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Those dot-com chief execs are a savvy bunch. First, they dazzled us with grandiose plans to conquer the world and took their fledgling companies public to raise lots of dough. Then, they had Wall Street believing profits were overrated as long as you could grow. Once Wall Street started watching the basic corporate blocking and tackling, many chief executives bumped themselves upstairs.

Leave the operational issues to someone else. Being a chief executive is overrated anyway.

Enter the visionary chairman. Dot-com chief executives are making themselves quite clear -- being a visionary is fun. Day-to-day operations aren't. There's also a big dose of reality in these moves -- you need more than vision to run a company.

There'll soon be a flock of visionary chairpeople running around. Just in the last week, the faces of four dot-coms changed dramatically. In most cases, the moves make a lot of sense and show that dot-coms are reaching maturity.

The latest chief executive to hand over the reins to be a visionary is iVillage's Candice Carpenter. Carpenter has a reputation for missing quarters, blowing big ad budgets and burning through chief financial officers every few months. You could argue that she should have been relegated to chief visionary well before now.

After the company's latest quarterly results, which are still being debated, Carpenter decided she'd be better off as chairman. Doug McCormick, president of iVillage, will become chief executive 1 August.

Carpenter will be involved in iVillage's long-term strategic direction including developing global partnerships, building corporate alliances and leveraging the brand. "This is a natural step in the evolution of iVillage, and in my own evolution," said Carpenter, in a statement. "The timing for this is right."

We agree completely. After all, how many confusing quarters can iVillage report?

The other three chief exec-to-chairman moves were under better circumstances -- and made a lot of sense. Tops on our list is VerticalNet's move to give Joe Galli, former operating chief at Amazon.com, the chief executive position. Mark Walsh, who made VerticalNet a business-to-business front-runner, will do the vision gig.

Here's why this move makes sense. Walsh is good at the visionary thing, but VerticalNet now has to integrate its recent acquisitions and smooth out operations. Galli is an operations guy.

And Galli comes in as VerticalNet is just hitting its stride. By landing a big name in Galli, VerticalNet could cement its position as a leader.

Marimba cofounder Kim Polese took a page out of the Walsh playbook. She took Marimba about as far as she could, turned a profit and stepped aside to focus on new business initiatives, strategic direction, mergers and acquisitions, and critical industry partnerships. In other words, Polese made herself chief strategy officer.

John Olsen, who recently was a top exec at Cadence Design Systems, takes over to give Marimba an operational boost just when the company needs to get to the next level.

Unlike Marimba and VerticalNet, which brought in new execs, DoubleClick went the frictionless route. DoubleClick chief executive Kevin O'Connor handed the company over to Kevin Ryan, who had been the president and operating chief.

Ryan, who was well respected on Wall Street, was basically running DoubleClick anyway. O'Connor will do the strategic vision thing. Maybe O'Connor can join his other visionaries on vacation.

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