By Olga Kharif FAMILY BUSINESS. Thanks to his well-known name, Dean Witter III says he has always gotten "a gold mine of good market tips, even though I wasn't in the investing business." No wonder: His uncle started the New York-based investment management firm William D. Witter, Inc.. His grandfather, Dean Witter, created the largest investment house on the West Coast, now part of Morgan Stanley.
Dean Witter III finally broke down and got into the family business a year-and-a-half ago, when his uncle died, naming him the executor of his estate. All of a sudden, Dean Witter III found himself the CEO of William D. Witter, managing $1.8 billion in client assets.
By all accounts, he has done well. And yet, this math wiz -- Dean Witter III solves math problems as a hobby -- says the job hasn't been his cup of tea. In the next few weeks, Witter tells BusinessWeek Online, he might appoint a new CEO to run day-to-day operations.
Meanwhile, he'll move into the post of chairman and focus on strategy -- such as expanding the kinds of investments the firm makes beyond small-cap stocks. After all, he definitely has the genes for it.
TOUGH PLAYERS. Back in 2000, when Ray Norda, former CEO of software maker Novell (NOVL), recruited execs to run Altiris (ATRS), a startup he backed, he inadvertently also created a sports team. Several of the company's execs run marathons. Others compete in triathlons.
At an executive retreat organized by Credit Suisse First Boston two years ago, right before Altiris went public, the startup's CEO, Greg Butterfield, and CFO, Steve Erickson, took first and second place in a skiing tournament. An executive at CSFB helping Altiris with its IPO said only half-jokingly, "We're a little concerned that you're playing too much," recalls Butterfield. To which the latter responded, "We like to win at everything."
So it seems: In 2004, sales at Altiris, which makes software for managing PCs and servers, were up 68%, to $166 million, year-over-year. It's forecasting 25% to 30% future growth. "We focus on working hard and playing hard," Butterfield says. Oh, and did I mention Altiris has also formed its own band? It plays hits from the '70s, '80s and '90s. Go team!
OPPORTUNITY CALLS. David Steinberg has always been a man who spotted opportunities. In the early '90s, when he was in his early 20s, he walked into a store and, during a casual chat with a salesperson, found out that a ton of money could be made selling cell phones. So he opened his own successful cell-phone distribution business in the basement of his Bethesda (Md.) home. His best business idea ever came in 1999, though, on a flight from New York to San Francisco.
A man sitting next to him kept asking Steinberg for advice on which wireless phone to buy. So -- bingo! -- Steinberg decided to post all this information onto the Web. He scribbled his business plan on the back of a note from his mom. The result was InPhonic (INPC), which went public in November of last year.
InPhonic activates more than 35% of the wireless phones sold in the U.S. and sells cell phones over the Web. It just posted a 50% year-over-year jump in revenues, to $204 million, in 2004. It's expected to turn a profit this year. Not bad for a company that started out on the back of a letter!
A HARD LESSON. When Wendell Weeks was appointed CEO of Corning (GLW) on Jan. 26, not very much changed for him personally. Weeks, who has long been the company's president and chief operating officer, even retained the same office. "There's not going to be a ton of change [as a result of this executive transition]," he says. "You can expect a lot of consistency from us" -- particularly where Corning's workforce is concerned.
Even though sales are growing at a double-digit rate, the company isn't -- and won't be -- hiring, even in its hometown of Corning, N.Y. During the downturn, Corning's sales, which were heavily dependent on demand for fiber-optic cable, bombed. Thousands of employees were laid off. "We're a big company in a small town, which gives you a feeling of everybody being in the same boat," says Weeks. "My kids go to school with kids of workers who were let go." So, he says, "one lesson we've learned is not to let infrastructure grow with volume."
APPRENTICE VS. THE REAL WORLD. Fans of The Apprentice 3 reality TV show with Donald Trump will recall Verna Felton. She made a splash in a recently aired episode by becoming the first contestant ever to quit the show, where 18 people compete for a high-paying management job at The Trump Organization.
When BusinessWeek Online recently caught up with Felton, who is back at work as a business manager at software giant Microsoft (MSFT), she said she has no regrets -- save one. "I do not regret [quitting the show] for a minute," she says, adding that she has been flooded with job offers since the episode aired last week. What Felton does regret is a nondisclosure agreement, which keeps her from talking about exactly why she quit.
Here's a hint, though: It wasn't stress. "As far as pressure and stressful work environment, I've done it for the past 10 years," says Felton, obviously alluding to Microsoft, which allowed her to take personal time to appear on the show. "It was backstabbing, and everyone fighting for camera time." No kidding!
And -- get this -- the show is totally fake! One example: When she decided to leave the show, Felton says she met with the Donald in private (i.e., without the cameras rolling). He shook her hand and assured Felton she will be very successful. Then, on the show, he called her a quitter. Of course, the guy must have been sore for not being able to do his "You are fired" routine. Kharif is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Portland, Ore.