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Six Who Got Out at the Top

As many of us lick our wounds from the Nasdaq bubble that splattered all over us starting last year, we may ponder this: For all those who bought high, somebody had to be selling or otherwise getting out, right? Hmmm... Are you curious as to who had the sense or just plain luck to get out at the top?

We were, so we set our crack Motley Fool writers to the task, and they found six very fortunate top execs. These guys cover the map, from the altruistic Arvind Relan, who exercised Webvan options when they were worth something and gave many away, to look-out-for-number-one Eric Greenberg, who seems to have mastered the art of overpromising and underdelivering, to the tune of $200 million.

Love 'em, hate' em, but here they are: Six Who Got Out at the Top, from the earliest -- Iomega's Kim Edwards --  to Broadcast.com's Mark Cuban, Blue Mountain Arts' Susan and Stephen Schutz, JDS Uniphase's Kevin Kalkhoven, and more.  

(Psst... If you're looking for investment ideas -- companies whose execs we hope will stick around for the long haul -- groove on the latest issue of The Motley Fool Select.)    

Kim Edwards, former President and CEO, Iomega (March 1998)
By Jean Macaulay (TMF Jeanie)

The flamboyant, Ferrari-driving executive took the reins of this stodgy disk-drive manufacturer in January 1994 promising "A New Iomega(NYSE: IOM)." Telling the old regime that "their baby was ugly" (referring to its flagship product, the Bernoulli drive), Kim Edwards oversaw the launch of the Zip Drive and revolutionized the company's image and stock price. Enthusiasm of early adopters who were convinced that the Zip would replace floppy drives in computers worldwide caused investors to drive Iomega's stock up 1300% during 1995-96.

A year later, component shortages, quality control issues, and a misdirected $100 million ad campaign had taken a huge toll on Iomega's parabolic promise and its stock plunged 75% in three months. In the fourth quarter of 1997, amid hints of big news coming at the Comdex show and a reviving stock price, Mr. Edwards sold over 342,000 shares (35% of his holdings) at an average price of $28/share just days before the company announced yet another stock split. Post-split, the stock ended 1997 at $12.

With nearly $10 million safely in his pocket -- and a golden parachute coming -- Edwards announced his resignation on the same day Iomega reported its disappointing first-quarter 1998 earnings and the stock fell overnight to $6, or more than double what it is today.

Jean Macaulay owned shares of Iomega during the reign of Kim Edwards but regrets to disclose that she "did not get out at the top." She eventually sold it all when it fell close to what she paid for it. To view her current holdings, see her profile.

Mark Cuban, former CEO and founder, Broadcast.com, bought by Yahoo! (April 1999)
By Mike Trigg (TMF Tonto)

Garbage bag salesman turned Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban got out at the top when he sold Broadcast.com, the leading provider of streaming content for the Web, to Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO)  for more than $6 billion. With his 28% stake in the company, Cuban walked away from the deal with a mere $1.7 billion. Not bad for a loudmouth geek who sold garbage bags and liquor as a young child and put himself through college giving disco lessons.

I admire Cuban's innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, but more importantly his ability to know when to know when a good deal won't get any better. At first, I thought it was possible Cuban just got lucky. Perhaps he created a decent service that the cash-rich Yahoo! could make better. But this wasn't the first time he'd taken the money and run. Cuban became a millionaire in the early '90s after selling his company, MicroSolutions, to CompuServe.

Cuban's most recent achievements have been less noble, however. He made the largest purchase ever over the Internet after buying a brand new Gulf Stream 5, the fastest corporate jet in the world, for $41 million with a couple clicks of the mouse. Most recently, he bought his hometown NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks, for $280 million. Despite the team's success, Cuban's most notable achievement thus far has been racking up fines in excess of $500,000 this past season. 

Like many of our country's billionaires, Cuban has become a media whore. He was a recent guest on CNN's program Greenfield at Large, where he was asked to analyze how President George W. Bush was handling his trip to Europe. If you think things couldn't get any worse than that, there's talk of a potential Cuban White House at some point in the future. I can see it now: President Cuban selling pricey White House statuettes just as they peak in value.

Mike Trigg (TMF Tonto) could just be sore because he owns shares of Yahoo. View his stock holdings on his profile.

Susan Polis Schutz and Stephen Schutz: co-founders, Blue Mountain Arts, bought by Excite@Home (Oct. 1999)
By Brian Lund (TMF Tardior)

The scene: October 1999, nearing the zenith of Internet mania. The phone rings in the office of Susan Polis Schutz and Stephen Schutz, founders of Blue Mountain Arts. The former hippies had started the company to publish Susan's poetry, but made ends meet by producing greeting cards and the occasional book by Leonard Nimoy. Lately, MIT grad Stephen has been putting greeting cards online in a "quest to make bluemountainarts.com the center for poetry and communicating emotions on the Web." He has made $0 in revenue from the venture so far, and anticipates making $0 in the future.

Stephen answers the phone. It's Excite@Home(Nasdaq: ATHM). The high-flying broadband provider has decided to build a media empire, and bluemountain.com is the lynchpin. It offers $350 million in cash and 11 million shares of stock, plus an extra 3 million shares if certain "targets" are reached.

Stephen's mathematical brain flies into operation: Half of those shares could -- and would -- be dumped immediately, reaping about $300 million. Six hundred and fifty million in cash and 7 million shares of stock, in exchange for some servers and a couple months' labor that would per se earn no return. Hmmm... tough call.

Dénouement: Excite@Home's entire company is now worth about $800 million. Susan and Stephen, with $650 million in cash, may be the most highly compensated poets in history. What's more, they have the satisfaction of knowing that they stuck it to The Man.

Brian Lund (TMF Tardior) doesn't own Excite@Home, and wishes he never had. You can see his holdings in his profile.

Next: Part Two »

Six Who Got Out at the Top represents the opinion of each Fool only and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc. or any companies in question, or as representative of anyone or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts. And you know how way out those can be, so do your homework, and review The Motley Fool'sdisclosure policy.


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