Charity, But Not Love


By Olga Kharif This holiday season, the business world's luminaries are hardly pausing for a break. Here's a sampling of what they've been up to:

STAPLE OF SUCCESS. The charity auction conducted by office-supplies provider Staples(SPLS) could end up puncturing some highfliers' egos. A while back, Staples got 143 famous people, including real-estate mogul Donald Trump, Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Carly Fiorina and Microsoft's (MSFT) Bill Gates each to autograph a stapler that then would be auctioned off to benefit the charity of the signer's choice. The auction, which ends Dec. 6, has already clearly shown who's popular -- and it's not Carly.

As of Dec. 1, the stapler that garnered the highest bid -- $1,005 -- belonged to Paris Hilton, of home sex video and TV reality-show fame. The Donald shared second place with NBC anchorwoman Katie Couric -- their staplers went for $800 each. Bill Gates' entry didn't fare too badly, garnering a $651 bid. Other business luminaries were another story.

A stapler signed by Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, was going for a mere $30. After days of no takers at all, Carly's stapler finally garnered $150. Steve Forbes' entry fetched a mere $106. A stapler signed by Staples' own chairman, Tom Stemberg, is selling for just $180.

One side note: Participating celebrities could either sign the item that the company sent them, or they could sign and send in their old desk stapler -- and keep the new one from Staples. Carly sent in her old stapler. I guess she means business when she says she's keeping costs under control.

SHARP MARK. Speaking of the Donald, Mark Cuban, whose Apprentice-like reality show, The Benefactor, bombed and was cancelled this fall, has decided to start a hedge fund. But here's a twist: Cuban claims it won't invest in stocks or bonds. "It's going to be a fund that only places bets. A gambling hedge fund," he writes on his blog (www.blogmaverick.com).

But he has also been reveling in the Donald's misfortunes. In the wake of the recent bankruptcy filing by Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (DJTCQ), Cuban wrote a personal message to Trump in his blog: "On TV, viewers do find you entertaining. It's hard to comprehend of anyone being as self-important and delusional about themselves as you are, Donald.hat can be fun to watch at times. But it does get old. But you already know that from your TV ratings don't you?" Ouch!

THE BOSS' FAN. During James Caparro's 30 years in the music industry, where he headed the likes of Warner Music Group's WEA and Universal Music's Island Def Jam Music Group, he has met many celebs, including his idol, Bruce Springsteen. "What you see projected on the stage is his soul," Caparro raves.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find," goes a song from the Boss, but the board of troubled video-game maker Atari (ATAR) certainly believes it has found the right leader in Caparro. Named CEO on Nov. 29, Caparro says he's "objectively grounded but optimistic." Atari is in a bit of a financial mess, and Caparro must find precious cash so the outfit can effectively compete against giants like Activision (ATVI). "The first order of business is to work hard," he says. Sounds sort of like a Springsteen lyric...

CONSUMER APPEAL. Thanks to years spent in retail at Liz Claiborne (LIZ) and Saks Fifth Avenue (SKS), Rich Zannino, now chief operating officer of publishing powerhouse Dow Jones (DJ), knows something about fashionable consumer marketing campaigns. And these days the new black in publishing, which has suffered from declining ad sales for several years, is direct-to-consumer advertising, Zannino says.

That's why Dow Jones has been slowly but surely rolling out more content targeting Main Street investors, rather than Wall Street traders. On Nov. 14, Dow Jones announced it's buying consumer financial-news site CBS MarketWatch (MKTW

, www.cbsmarketwatch.com) for $519 million. And next September the group will launch a Saturday edition of the print Wall Street Journal, featuring a weekend lifestyle section, Zannino says.

A NEW HOTMAIL? The co-founder of free e-mail service Hotmail, Sabeer Bhatia, felt left out for most of the dot-com boom. And no wonder: After he sold Hotmail to Microsoft in 1997 for $400 million, luck had seemingly deserted him. Bhatia's next venture, technology expert portal Arzoo.com, went belly up in 2001.

Fast-forward to 2004. Bhatia's latest venture, expected to start up in the next few weeks, is travel-information site HotSeasons.com. Currently in beta testing, the site will offer travel-related reviews and news articles and refer customers to established travel sites. "I'm very confident that, in the next few years, I'll be able to achieve Hotmail-like performance," says Bhatia, who is now 35. "My goal is to do it again." Hey, Microsoft, are you listening?

HARMONY IN SOCIAL NETWORKING. Arguably, social networking has already gotten Greg Forgatch pretty far: Twenty years ago, he married the eldest daughter of Neil Clark Warren, the personality behind dating site eHarmony. He now manages his father-in-law's brand. "He [has] the big dreams, and I run the business," Forgatch says.

Forgatch is now taking social networking to the next level: On Nov. 30, eHarmony agreed to provide its services to users of Friendster.com, the site that invented social networking on the Web. This came on the heels of another coup a week earlier, when eHarmony announced that it will power online personals for huge newspaper chain Gannett (GCI), which owns the nation's largest circulation newspaper, USA Today.

That's just the beginning of Forgatch's big plans: eHarmony is also trying to win placement on some Web portals and more newspaper deals, he says. Keep on connecting, buddy.

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


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