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APRIL 14, 2000

Is the CEO Whose IPO Hit It Big a Mythical Creature?

Excerpt from Net Slaves: True Tales of Working the Web


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CEOs are a lot like unicorns -- everyone's seen pictures of them, would recognize one in a second, but when it comes to studying them in the flesh, they may as well be mythical creatures.

Such was the conclusion my co-author, Steve, and I reached when we reached the summit of the new media caste system and found nothing there but a pile of magazines filled with articles that quoted these robber barons just short of claiming that their gangbusters IPO was a predestined occurrence that had been announced to them years prior by the otherworldly voice inside a burning bush.

In our hearts, we knew the truth. A second earlier, a second later, and their "revolutionary paradigms" would have shared the fate of most technology companies -- oblivion. While we were unable to catch any robber barons in their native habitat, we did come upon roaming herds of former associates who not only claimed to have seen these elusive creatures but offered us firsthand accounts of the robber barons' most closely guarded secrets, including what foul beasts they were to their employees, what utter losers they were in high school, and what really happened on that hot sweaty night of unbridled passion at PC Expo 1995.

It all sounded pretty good, but for the life of us, we couldn't tell you it was true. Now before you accuse us of copping out, we'd like to leave you with a rationalization: Even if we did find one of these people, we would have never gotten the straight story anyway.

The General Characteristics of Robber Barons

Where They Can Be Found: Robber barons can be found on the covers of mainstream magazines, giving keynote addresses at industry conferences, or in the case of Bill Gates, defending his empire from the Justice Dept.'s trustbusters.

Why We Need Robber Barons: Americans need to believe that if they play their cards right they can reach Shangri-La -- getting rich from virtual companies with no tangible profits. Sad, but true.

Average Net Worth: $20 million (reaching way up into the billions).

Percentage of Net Slaves Population: 0.1 percent.

Marital Status: Married, usually to a former or current employee. Why? Well, Robber Barons, despite the risks they've taken in their professional lives, are quite conservative on the home front. They mate only within familiar social circles, being geeks and pragmatists at heart.

Things That Piss Robber Barons Off: Negative earnings reports, dips in the stock market ("I'm only worth $1 billion today, goddamnit!"), product delays, gains by the competition, not having things exactly the way they want them ("I asked for a 2.5-minute egg. This is a 2.7-minute egg!").

Mode of Dress: Having beaucoup bucks hasn't improved their fashion sense. Robber barons sport wrinkled, comfortable-looking suits, and the same hairstyles and eyeglass frames they've had since 1982.

How Robber Barons View the Net Slaves They Employ: If they could outsource all their development and manufacturing to the Philippines, they would. They've relegated most of their staff to permatemp status and use inmates from the local prison to package software.

How They View the Internet: As a) the greatest scam ever or b) the second phase of their 1,000-year business plan.

Psychological Profile: Napoleonic complex, Hitler complex, always-picked-last-for-touch-football complex.

Career Aspirations: Enough is never enough.

Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin are the co-creators of the netslaves Web site []. Both currently write for Wired News.

Bill Lessard has written for The Industry Standard and CNET, and spent years as a netslave for Prodigy, Pathfinder, and a variety of startups before joining the Union Bank of Switzerland. He lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

Steve Baldwin has been an editor at PC Magazine, Computer Shopper, and Pathfinder, and developed "Ghost Sites of the Web," a Web zine devoted to failed Web sites. He lives in New York City.

Reprinted and excerpted with permission from Net Slaves: True Tales of Working the Web

By Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin
Copyright 2000 Bloomberg L.P.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher. Available at the McGraw-Hill Bookstore, local and online bookstores. For ordering information, see


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