Execs Sail, Speed, and Soar


By Olga Kharif As Thanksgiving preparations kick into gear, executives aren't slowing down a bit. If anything, some seem to be speeding up. Here's a sampling of what they've been up to:

RACY SHOPPING. We should have guessed. As a professional buyer, Theresa Metty detests shopping -- at a mall, at least. The chief procurement officer of cell-phone maker Motorola (MOT ) buys her books and holiday gifts on the Internet. Her family follows suit. One of her brothers buys parts for custom motorcycles on auction site eBay (EBAY). Together with all 11 of her sisters and brothers, Metty loves to race motorcycles in Utah. She has even set eight land-speed records.

That's not why she's winning accolades at Motorola, however. Metty has implemented an online purchasing system that has saved the outfit more than $600 million over the past two years. About 50% of Motorola's $20 billion a year in purchases are made through the system today. That proportion should climb to more than 70% next year, she says.

In a hypercompetitive landscape dominated by failures and consolidations at rivals, financially challenged Motorola needs all the help -- and cost savings -- it can get, ASAP. If she can figure out a way to transfer racing skills to procurement, Metty's speed will come in handy.

JAIL SALE. People are beginning to forget about poor Martha Stewart, who commenced serving her five-month sentence in Alderson Prison in West Virginia in October. That, at least, is the conclusion drawn by Shay Yates Roberts at www.TheMarthaPrisonGiftShop.com. The site sells goodies such as T-shirts, buttons, and caps with "Martha-in-jail"-themed messages. Its best-seller is an apron with the tag line "Alderson Federal Prison: Protecting you from homemakers."

While the two-month-old site enjoyed lively sales when the domestic diva, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO), first entered the slammer, the action has cooled. "People are used to the idea [of Stewart being in jail], and sales are slacking off," complains Yates Roberts. He's hopeful, however, that the venture will pick up steam when America's favorite homemaker ends her jail term and reenters civilian life in 2005.

SPREADING GOOD FORTUNE. Bill Greehey, chairman and CEO of one of the world's largest oil refineries, Valero (VLO

, VLI), hasn't forgotten what it was like to grow up poor. Greehey was raised in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in a working-class family and has been helping out his kin since he was 12.

With his company's income having doubled to $1.3 billion in the nine-month period ending Sept. 30 (vs. a year ago), Greehey is again sharing his wealth -- not just with family. He has been leading the company's numerous charity and volunteer campaigns.

Valero's volunteers maintain a San Antonio city block -- complete with company-built baseball field, a playground, and a basketball court -- and raise millions of dollars a year for charities. This year, Valero will host a Christmas dinner for kids and elderly from city shelters. Each child can request a particular gift, which the employees will procure. Last year, the presents included everything from TVs to bikes.

This year, Valero might rake in even more profit. Greehey believes that despite today's high oil prices, the market for refining so-called sour crude will continue to increase in the next year. He's thinking of acquiring refineries in the Northwest or Gulf Coast.

GLOBETROTTING EXEC. Dan Warmenhoven, CEO of computer-storage maker Network Appliance (NTAP), travels about half of the time now that his outfit's fortunes are soaring. Its second-quarter revenues grew 36%, to $375 million, year over year. And NetApp's expanding international customer base clamors for Warmenhoven's personal attention. The upside: With the kids having left the nest, Warmenhoven's wife joins him on most business trips. In the past year, the two have explored the pyramids of Egypt and sambaed through Brazil's Carnivale.

More of the same is likely to come, since Warmenhoven is striving to expand NetApp's sales to $3 billion over the next 2 1/2 years. To get there, he plans to sacrifice some of the company's gross margins to offer more favorable prices.

CALLED BACK. When Bill Leighton, the longtime head of research at telecom powerhouse AT&T (T), retired less than a year ago, he was ready. Putting years of 14- and 15-hour days behind him, Leighton began sailing, earned his pilot's license, and started looking for a plane to buy.

Then, the business world sucked him back in. On Nov. 15, Leighton, who designed and built AT&T's Internet Protocol (IP) network, the world's largest, accepted a position as interim CEO of Avici (AVCI), a struggling telecom gearmaker, which boasts AT&T as its largest customer.

His first task? Deciding what to look for in a new CEO. That decision could prove quite easy: Leighton doesn't rule out that he might want the job for himself, he tells BusinessWeek Online. As for his trivial pursuits: It's cold outside, so sailing and flying are out of the question.

Have a great weekend! Kharif is a writer for BusinessWeek Online in Portland, Ore.


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