Excerpts: “Bernie’s Big Gamble”
- MCI WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers is sitting at his desk in Clinton, Miss., talking with a visitor about his favorite subject–okay, everybody’s favorite subject these days, the stock market–when he swivels around to peer at a laptop flashing the day’s share price. He squints and finds what he’s looking for. “We’ve got this idiot giving a press conference on the WorldCom/Sprint transaction,” Ebbers groans.
- As telecom consultant Mark Bruneau of Renaissance Strategy Worldwide puts it, “WorldCom is the poster child for buying real things with fake money.” By 1998 his scrip was worth enough to pay $40 billion for MCI, a company three times WorldCom’s size, increasing revenues to $37 billion last year.
- Global Crossing CEO Leo Hindery says, “[Bernie] Ebbers is a rock & roll star. Now telecom is like the entertainment business, where you know the CEOs just by their first names.”
- Global corporate customers are the sweet spot in the telecom racket today, and WorldCom faces a stiff contest. AT&T and BT have a joint venture called Concert expressly to chase these customers, and when Leo Hindery, the Global Crossing CEO, was asked to name his Holy Grail, he responded without a moment’s hesitation: “MNCs”–multinational corporations.
- For fun, he likes to dabble in the market, and on the day that Scott Cleland’s conference call is sending WorldCom’s stock down a couple of points, he checks another ticker. “Inktomi is up $17,” he says, shaking his head in disgust. “I’m so stupid!”
- “I got out at $119,” says Ebbers. “Then it started going down again, and when it reached $108, I told my broker to buy when it fell to $105.” He pauses. “It never got there. Now it’s at $217. And this in four weeks!”