Gone Fishin'

Looking to catch a big one? Trolling the deep, corporate waters? All you need to put a whopper CEO, CFO or other acronym on your table is the right bait.

When Sandra Hand, vice president of Virtual Voice corporation at the time, took the phone call that would ultimately lead her to walk away from the voice-messaging company where she'd spent 10 years of her life, her first thought was, "I'm pretty happy here."

But on the other end of the phone line was Dylan Marer, an entrepreneur's entrepreneur blessed with a gift of persuasion that makes Johnny Cochran look like a piker. The 32-year-old Marer had already launched one successful company, the $4 million Los Angeles-based Innovative Meetings and Events, and needed Hand to roll out his latest venture, BodyLogix.com in August 1999.

Marer wanted BodyLogix.com to crash the fledgling women's alternative health and exercise market with a bang, grabbing market share and creating a brand name in an industry that didn't have many. The key was getting people like Hand on board to steer the company out of port and guide it through the choppy seas of e-commerce. Good plan. But why would anyone with a modicum of sense leave a big, established company for a newer, smaller one with a risky future?

"I don't buy the notion that we're a small company or a new company," says Marer, who expects BodyLogix.com to bring in $38 million this year, "but I understand some people do. I think you can attract top people to a newer or smaller business by doing two things: paying them well and appealing to their sense of adventure. And that's what we did with Sandra."

For her part, Hand thought things were getting a little stale at her own job, and she was at a point in her life where she felt like taking on new challenges--not that she didn't want some guarantees first. "I'd be lying if I said money isn't a factor in going to work for a small company, especially a dot.com," she explains. "But we spend so much time at the office that you realize you want to be in a place you enjoy and where the work really challenges you."

Lured by Marer's offer of a healthy chunk of equity in BodyLogix.com, and by the company's cutting-edge concept, Hand agreed to climb aboard as Marer's new executive vice president. "When Dylan first approached me to come work for BodyLogix, I was intrigued by what the company would be doing and excited about the idea of slugging it out in the e-commerce market," she says. "As an executive, you want the money, you want the challenge and you want the opportunity to get involved with a company that has great long-term growth potential. When I looked at BodyLogix that way, it was actually a pretty easy decision to make."

Hotshot execs moving from stronger and more established companies to smaller, more nascent ones may not be a new concept, but it's one that's attracting more attention these days. Eyebrows were raised all over Wall Street last year when Lou Dobbs, president of CNN Financial News, left his high-profile job and moved over to Space.com, a space-travel and astronomy Web site with a much lower profile. Dobbs told reporters that space travel was his first love and he wanted to spend the rest of his working life up to his elbows in it.

Neither Hand nor Dobbs is alone in taking on new risks. Today more and more corporate heavy hitters are foregoing the showroom-floor-sized corner office and reserved parking privileges for the relative uncertainty of 70-hour weeks at shoe-box-sized offices where they may have to fight for prime parking spots with the rest of the staffers.

How are small businesses attracting such talent? Good financial packages--usually with a piece of the company included--big-time titles like CEO or COO, and a Braveheart-like call to arms that appeals to the Mel Gibson in most corporate big shots.

"I recently hired one of the highest-ranking executives in my industry," says Scott H. Korn, the 37-year-old founder, chairman and CEO of York Paper, an $80 million Eddystone, Pennsylvania-based paper-products company. "It took a heck of a lot to get him--enough equity in the company where he's set for life--but what sold him on us was the idea that he'll have as much freedom and flexibility as he can handle. As long, that is, as he produces."

Brian O'Connell is a Framingham, Massachusetts, freelance business writer who aspires to be a big-shot executive, or at least be married to one someday. His most recent book, Generation E: How Young Entrepreneurs are Changing the Corporate Landscape (Entrepreneur Press), was released in September 1999. He can be reached at Bwrite111@aol.com

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Gone Fishin'.

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