Mysteries, Mentors, Money Men


By Olga Kharif JACK, BOBBY...AND DAVE. David Talbot, chairman of Salon Media, the outfit behind independent news site Salon.com, has always been fascinated with the Kennedys. He was an impressionable 12-year-old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. At 16, Talbot volunteered for Bobby Kennedy's campaign -- until his hero also fell to an assassin's bullet. "I thought he was America's best hope," Talbot tells BusinessWeek Online. "It's a wound America still hasn't recovered from."

A desire to probe that wound is one of the reasons Talbot started work on his new book, which has kept him busy at weekends and evenings for about a year. Tentative working title: The Hidden History of Kennedy Administration.

After four decades, what is it that could still be hidden? Well, Talbot says he has already discovered that Bobby Kennedy was told on the fateful morning of Nov. 22, 1963, of a possible assassination attempt on his brother -- and did nothing.

Want more juicy tidbits? You'll just have to wait.

Talbot plans to complete his manuscript by the spring of 2006, and he's so determined to get all his thoughts and research down on paper that he has stepped down as Salon's CEO to bring a full-time focus to the project. After that, he believes he has "at least one more launch in me." So don't count him out of the business world yet.

MARK CUBAN LOGS ON. As Blake Rhodes' experience shows, any college student can grow up to become a CEO -- if he makes the right e-mail connection. About two years ago, Rhodes, who is now 23, dashed off a note to Dallas Mavericks owner and tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, whose e-mail is listed on the Mavs Web site. Cuban has a well-deserved reputation for responding to e-mail, so Rhodes actually heard back from him. The two bantered off and on about basketball, with Rhodes, then a communications major, sometimes bouncing business ideas off his pen pal. Recently, he got the hoops honcho to underwrite one of them.

When Rhodes graduated last summer, he became the CEO of IceRocket.com, a search engine that he hopes will be an alternative to Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO). As an investor, Cuban is a very involved one, talking via e-mail with Rhodes on an almost daily basis. "He's really nice, really down to earth," Rhodes reports, ading: "He loves technology and has fun with the businesses he's involved with."

Cuban is dead serious about this startup. He believes blogs will multiply like rabbits and drive traffic to IceRocket.com, which aims to help users do a better job of searching them than do current competitors. If the plan comes together, IceRocket will make the bucks from the ads it carries. Good for the economy, good for Mark.

SOCIAL SECURITY'S NEXT CRISIS. Andew Zolli's occupation demands that he look a bit farther than his nose -- as much as 50 years further. It can be a neat job, too. Last weekend, like increasing numbers of curious thrill-seekers, Zolli got to hang out in zero gravity aboard a roller-coasting jet like the "Vomit Comet" that NASA uses to train real-life astronauts. Safely back on the ground, he's planning a world tour to spot emerging trends.

For Zolli and his clients -- including CEOs and board members of companies such as General Electric (GE) and Sun Microsystems (SUNW) -- this is work, not play. Zolli's specialty is observing demographic trends and predicting their impact on business. Here's what he sees in his crystal ball: By 2008, there will be more seniors in the U.S. than ever before. Because oldsters are typically pro-environment and would like to leave the world a better, cleaner, greener place than they found it, Zolli is urging his corporate clients to ramp up environmentally friendly products.

Another prediction: With the medical advances he expects to see over the next few years, he believes it's feasible that many humans will live to blow out as many as 150 candles. That will change the way financial planning is done. Hmmm...maybe. In the meantime, most of us probably don't have to worry too much about saving for those extra decades.

SWEET SCIENCE. Del Fuhrman, who runs Moonstruck premium chocolates in Portland, Ore., is entering unexplored territory. Most of us know that grapes from different regions make different wines. Now, Fuhrman hopes to do something similar for chocolate.

Moonstruck, which sells its hand-made delights in six cafes in Oregon and Illinois and at upscale grocery stores, imports beans from as far afield as the Appalachians and Venezuela. Fuhrman hopes to create consumer awareness of the differences -- and to transform the market for chocolates.

Just as lovers of the grape have long been free to savor the different qualities of a cabernet from France's Rhone Valley with the same varietal from California or Chile, he figures chocolate lovers will delight in comparing and contrasting, say, a Borneo-bred bon-bon with a Tanzanian truffle. Before Moonstruck, Fuhrman managed internal worldwide consulting for Apple Computer (AAPL), where he helped launch the iPod, so this is definitely a guy who knows how to hit the consumer sweet spot.

ANOTHER SOUR DAY FOR SOROS. First, financier George Soros lost a lot of money trying to prevent President Bush's reelection. Now the globe-girdling investor's name is taking a beating online. Apparently, scammers used the name of Soros Foundations, which promote human rights worldwide, to ask Web users for personal information and credit-card numbers, according to a Feb. 15 posting on the foundation's site. It goes without saying that neither Soros nor any of his organizations are associated with these despicable activities. But if setbacks come in batches, you have to worry what's next for poor (or, rather, not so poor) George. By Olga Kharif in Portland, Ore.


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