WALL STREET JOURNAL ON JOINING INTERNET START
profit by this
"In my next job, I want to work for an entrepreneurial
We hear that SOOOOOOOO often.
Remember Oscar Wilde's famous quote, "Be Careful What You
May Get It."
Steven Carter got what he wanted......and more than he
Instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Well that's
life in internet companies" what could have been done by Mr. Carter to read the warning signals he was being given, e.g. high turnover.
He saw the signals but probably didn't seek out an impartial
What could have been done by the retained search firm to
insure a smooth transition between two executives from VERY different perspectives?
This story could have easily been avoided with a structured
transition program, similar to what Stybel Peabody does in its retained search efforts.
For more information, contact Larry Stybel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No one in this story looks good.
Christian & Timbers was only concerned about completing the
search, and not about insuring the smooth transition.
IVillage's lack of competence in managing people is now
blasted on the front page of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.
And Steven Carter looks like someone who didn't do a good
job of due dilligence.
Tel: 617 736 0900
HELPING COMPANIES ACHIEVE 'SMOOTH TRANSITIONS" FOR VERY SENIOR LEVEL EXECUTIVES THROUGH RETAINED SEARCH, COACHING, AND HELPING EXECUTIVES FIND NEW CHAPTERS IN THEIR PROFESSIONAL LIVES.
ESTABLISHED IN 1979
225 CONSULTANTS IN 49 CITIES.
Ex-NBC Executive Fumbles His Options,
But He Isn't Giving Up on the Internet
By JONATHAN KAUFMAN Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 4, 2000
Steven Carter seemed to have it made. An executive vice
president at NBC, Mr. Carter earned more than $400,000 a year, including bonuses. He owned a five-bedroom house in affluent Greenwich, Conn., and sent his two teenage sons to private school. When in London on business, he entertained the
network's clients by whisking them off by limousine to such
events as the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Then, Mr. Carter left NBC to join an Internet start-up as
its chief of sales and marketing. Over the next nine months his career and his finances unraveled. He clashed with his boss at iVillage Inc. over what he considered her unrealistic expectations, and was fired. By the time iVillage went
public in a promising initial public offering last year, Mr.
Carter's chances of making millions on stock options had already evaporated.
"I wanted to get on the speedboat," he says. "Instead, I
As the Internet revolution rolls on, the promise of
lucrative options packages and the glamour of being on the economy's cutting edge is tempting more and more managers to leave the relative security of big corporations.
In a study of top-level hires at 500 Internet companies,
executive-search firm SpencerStuart found that 88% of those hired in the final quarter of 1999 came from traditional companies, up from 38% in early 1998.
"Nobody who has an opportunity to participate in this
explosion is willing to sit on the sidelines," says Jeff Christian, president of Christian & Timbers, the Cleveland firm that recruited Mr. Carter for the iVillage job.
But there is a darker side to the start-up life. For every
executive who ends up making millions, there are others who find themselves caught in a career quagmire, stripped of the stability of corporate life, working for demanding bosses and compensated with potentially worthless stock options.
In 1997, a survey of more than 4,500 senior executives by
the American Management Association found that roughly the same number -- about 2% -- had returned to big companies that year as had left them to join start-ups or strike out on their own.
For its part, iVillage has a reputation for high turnover.
While some executives recruited from major corporations have thrived there, former Chief Financial Officer Joanne Hindman, a 12-year veteran of Washington Post Co., left after four months. Todd Kenner, a lawyer recruited from Gaylord Broadcasting to be general counsel, was dismissed after nine weeks. Mr.
Kenner is suing iVillage in U.S. District Court in New York,
alleging that it failed to give him stock options he was promised when he was hired. Mr. Carter and Ms. Hindman have filed affidavits in support of Mr. Kenner's lawsuit alleging that the company also misrepresented the terms of their
options packages. IVillage denies those claims.
A 'Ludicrous' Idea
IVillage Chief Executive Candice Carpenter, who pushed hard
to hire Mr. Carter and then fired him nine months later, declined to comment specifically on Mr. Carter's dismissal, citing litigation. But, she said, "the idea that everyone should quit corporate jobs and join dot-coms is ludicrous. There is a reason you make a lot of money in this space if you succeed -- it's a big risk."
As Mr. Carter quickly found out. The executive, who is now
46 years old, boasted a stellar corporate record as an ad salesman. In the 1980s, he worked with Ted Turner at Turner Broadcasting, helping build up the TBS superstation and on later projects at CNN. In 1994, he joined NBC as a vice
president, selling ads for the network's international cable
properties. The company then promoted him to executive vice president of sales for the network's domestic-cable properties, CNBC and MSNBC. But in May 1997, frustrated and feeling he had risen as high as he would go at NBC, Mr. Carter resigned to seek another job.
"There was a lot of cool stuff going on," he says, although
he concedes he had little firsthand knowledge of the Internet and rarely used the computer in his office at NBC. Since he was 44 at the time, he adds, it seemed that the time to make the leap was then or never. "I felt, 'If you don't stick your neck out, the return is limited.' "
Assurance From a Recruiter
Three weeks after leaving NBC, he got a call from a
recruiter representing iVillage, which was building a Web site aimed at women. "The person who takes this job will get rich," Mr. Carter says the recruiter told him.
The job was crucial to iVillage's success; with an IPO in
its future, the company needed ad sales to generate revenue. Three people had held the top sales and marketing post in the space of two years; two had resigned, and a third had taken another job at the company.
Ms. Carpenter met with Mr. Carter and launched into a hard
sell. As is typical for executives joining start-ups, Mr. Carter would have to take a pay cut -- to $175,000, plus a signing bonus of $50,000. But he would be entitled to 280,000 stock options over four years; the options, whose exercise price was around $1.60 a share, represented about 1% of the company's equity -- a stake that could make him rich when iVillage went
Mr. Carter says Ms. Carpenter gave him 48 hours, suggesting
she might trim his options package if he demurred.
He accepted before the deadline expired -- in part, he says,
because he found the atmosphere at iVillage invigorating. "I liked the energy, the rush of people drawn to something new and different," he says. "I knew there was a lot of risk." Though he says his wife thought he was "crazy" to take a 60%
pay cut, "I figured, 'I can live for a year on this drastically reduced income level, and then I'll use some of the stock as current income to maintain my lifestyle.' "
In July 1997, Mr. Carter reported to iVillage's offices in
Manhattan's Flatiron district for his first day at work; he was the only person wearing a tie. The situation there was "chaotic," he says. The company needed to sign up advertisers as fast as possible, but the sales staff seemed disorganized, and several clients who had initially signed on weren't
"I was blitzed by people needing things," says Mr. Carter,
who spent his first month on the job getting organized. He sent out a memo to the 15 people reporting to him asking them to detail "the good, the bad and the ugly" of the company's sales effort. He asked everyone at iVillage to pool their Rolodexes to compile a master database of sales contacts.
His moves were standard operating procedure in big
corporations, but they irritated many at iVillage who felt Mr. Carter was spending too much time on process and procedures and not enough rolling up his sleeves and digging in.
Ms. Carpenter directed Mr. Carter to sign up 80 advertisers
in less than six months, a figure he says he quickly realized was unrealistic. Advertisers were reluctant to spend money on an untested medium. "Advertising targeted
to women on the Internet was a very immature business," he
says. But Ms. Carpenter didn't want to listen to his analysis, Mr. Carter says, "The attitude was 'Mario Andretti's here. We're going to the Indy 500 this year,' " he recalls. In a memo to the staff, Ms. Carpenter said Mr. Carter would bring in several large advertising accounts "by sheer force of will."
As 1997 came to an end, ad sales were below Ms. Carpenter's
goals. Hopes for two big ad purchases -- by Nike Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co. -- were dashed. Mr. Carter blamed slowing sales at both companies, which had led them to reduce their ad budgets.
Ms. Carpenter soon began accompanying Mr. Carter on sales
calls. Mr. Carter says he found her involvement exciting, but, in retrospect, he says, he was setting himself up for second-guessing.
While declining to talk about Mr. Carter specifically, Ms.
Carpenter says that at this point in the company's history, "we had to perform to stay alive. If you do nothing for three months in a big company, the process will carry you. In a little company, if you do nothing for three months, the process comes to a halt."
"I'm a tough boss," she adds, "I really expect performance."
Ms. Carpenter set a goal of $27.5 million in ad sales for
1998. As the year unfolded, the target was cut to $17 million. Everyone in the company, including members of the board of directors, pitched in to sell ads.
(Ultimately, the company sold less than $15 million in
advertising that year.)
The pressure on Mr. Carter grew. He would get home at 8 or 9
p.m., have dinner, then be on the phone to the West Coast for several hours. He began missing his sons' football games. Ms. Carpenter began calling him at home at midnight. "No one at NBC ever called the house at midnight," says Mr.
Carter's wife, Suzie.
"Often a lot of these entrepreneurs are out there on their
own because they were brutally successful but people didn't like working for them," says Mr. Carter. "You slap the label 'entrepreneur' on them, and they feel they can treat people any way they want."
Robert Levitan, a co-founder of iVillage who subsequently
left it to head up another start-up, says that in hindsight, Mr. Carter's job "was too much for any one person to step into. I don't think anyone at iVillage realized how much was involved. You had to pitch companies, then you had to come up with
ideas" for advertising, "then sign them on, then provide
creative content, then track the results and report to them." Mr. Carter, he adds, was overwhelmed, and "didn't have enough experience to draw on."
In January 1998, an iVillage colleague warned Mr. Carter his
job was in jeopardy, but Mr. Carter says he dismissed such concerns because Ms. Carpenter had assured him he "had the support of the company." At her direction, he began hiring more sales staff. When recruits expressed concern about reports of turnover at iVillage, Mr. Carter says he reassured them,
saying, "Don't worry. You're coming to work for me. I'll be
In March 1998, Mr. Carter began a search for a new deputy, a
vice president of sales. He spent much of his March vacation in Florida on the phone, but his top prospect turned him down.
'Talk to Candice'
A few weeks later, on Good Friday, Mr. Carter was back in
New York interviewing a sales recruit who said she had heard the new vice president was coming to iVillage after all. Confused, Mr. Carter called the man and asked him if the rumor was true.
"You'll have to talk to Candice," he says the man replied.
Ms. Carpenter agreed to meet Mr. Carter downstairs at a
coffee shop. She fired him. "I begged for mercy," Mr. Carter recalls. "I was in disbelief." His first-year options -- for 70,000 shares -- didn't vest for another three months. He would be leaving iVillage empty-handed.
The following Monday morning, Mr. Carter says he received a
voice-mail message from Ms. Carpenter saying he could stay on three more months to vest his options plus an additional three months as part of a severance package. If iVillage went public as expected with a price in the mid-teens, Mr. Carter's options would be valued at about a million dollars.
Back on the job market, Mr. Carter found his prospects
dimmed. Instead of an NBC executive making $400,000 a year, Mr. Carter was now a middle-aged, $175,000-a-year sales executive fired from a hot Internet start-up.
Recruiters steered him to ad-sales jobs paying $150,000.
"All of a sudden you're damaged goods," says Mr. Carter,
"There is an easy assumption that only young, hip people get the Internet."
Still without a job, Mr. Carter left iVillage on Oct. 15,
1998. Two months later, iVillage sent him a FedEx package with the paperwork for exercising his options, a transaction that would cost him $100,000.
The terms came as a shock. Mr. Carter says he had believed
he would have 10 years to exercise his options, the usual period for public companies. But iVillage was still privately owned and insisted he had to act within three months of leaving the company -- by Jan. 15, less than a month away. With his job prospects uncertain, a mortgage, and two kids in
private school, "I didn't have $100,000," says Mr. Carter.
Mr. Carter says he decided against taking out a loan for the
sum because he wasn't sure the company's IPO would be successful. Even if it were, Mr. Carter would have had to wait until the end of a six-month lock-up period to sell his shares, by which time the stock price could have plummeted --
though it was unlikely to fall below his purchase price of
about $1.60 a share.
He let his options expire. Two months later, iVillage went
public at $24 a share, which would have made Mr. Carter's stake worth $1.7 million. The stock rose to $80 on its first day of trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market and went as high as $130 in April before retreating; Monday, iVillage shares
closed at $19.875, down 37.5 cents.
While he looked for work, Mr. Carter economized by canceling
the family's annual vacation, as well as his sons' guitar lessons. After consulting for a few months, he hooked up with Harrison, N.Y., start-up e-Save Network Inc., an Internet-based distributor of grocery coupons. His starting salary: $150,000, since raised to $175,000, plus stock options.
"It's a terrific opportunity," says Mr. Carter. "I have no
intent of going back to corporate life. Do I bail out and go back and say I'll become head of sales of a cable network? No way."
Still, Mr. Carter concedes, his leap into the unknown has
been scary. "I have to get up every morning saying, 'It's going to happen. Keep on going,' " he says. "In a different world, I could sell my house, take our kids out of private schools and disrupt our lives. But I'm optimistic my skills will
pay off. If I wasn't, I couldn't get up in the morning."