With his trademark candor on full display, Overstock.com
Perhaps rock stardom has begrudgingly found Byrne because of his Rule Breaking approach to business. Indeed, Fool co-founder David Gardner recommended Overstock to his Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers last November.
Buffett at the kitchen table
Although Byrne admits that his childhood was fairly normal -- there were no silver spoons -- most of us did not spend our teens chatting with Warren Buffett over scrambled eggs. As a close friend of Patrick's father, former GEICO chief Jack Byrne, Buffett waxed philosophical to the youngster, not about investing per se, but about "general life lessons."
Which begs the question: How does a "Buffett guy" wind up CEO of a dot-com? "I turned down a hundred different business plans that came across the desk.... I don't think I spent 30 seconds on any one of them. Then Overstock came across my desk, and I think it probably took me 30 seconds to say yes to it... because it had a completely different set of characteristics than the others: liquidation on the Internet."
Competing in the virtual marketplace
The marketplace was crowded when Overstock entered, but the Rule Breaking mentality of its CEO is no doubt responsible for Overstock's fearless pursuit of industry leaders such as eBay
It's not business, it's personal
Byrne's biggest fight, however, had nothing at all to do with Overstock. He is a three-time cancer survivor, something the former boxer says keeps his life in perspective. "I made a mental decision just to try to keep that frame of mind, because if you wake up every morning and say 'if I had two years left, is this what I would want to be doing?' you are going to live a full life and someday you are going to be right. Someday it will only be two years left. In the meantime, you will do the right things."
Overstock around the globe
As part of that mission, Byrne pinpointed Worldstock -- a store within Overstock devoted exclusively to carrying the works of Third World or developing world artisans -- as "my great love." The aim is to sell those artisans' goods as inexpensively as possible so as to maximize the amount of return for them. Last summer, Overstock became the largest employment provider in Afghanistan. "We are projecting to become the largest employment provider in three other countries this year. If we can grow it... that to me would mean something important."
Byrne admits that he talks "more like an analyst than a CEO" -- which makes for a juicy interview. For insight into his other great love, or why he believes you can't let hedge fund managers "near the steering wheel of a real business," or for his honest opinions of the CEOs of Amazon.com, eBay, and Disney