Jim Barksdale is best known for his role in Nets-cape Communications Corp.'s battle with Microsoft Corp. for the Internet browser market. He joined Netscape as a seasoned executive, having served as vice president and chief operating officer (COO) of Federal Express Corp. from 1984 to 1991; president and COO of McCaw Cellular between 1992 and 1994; and chief executive officer (CEO) of AT&T Wireless Services after McCaw merged with AT&T Corp. Netscape founders Jim Clark and Mark Andreessen offered him a board seat at their fledgling Internet browser firm in October of 1994. Three months later, Barksdale agreed to run Netscape, taking on the roles of both president and CEO.
One of Barksdale's first tasks at the helm of Netscape was taking the upstart public in what would amount to one of the most lucrative initial public offerings (IPO) in history. Less than a year later, Nets-cape's Navigator had secured roughly 80 percent of the Internet browser market. Although Microsoft's competing browser, Internet Explorer, entered the market soon after Navigator made its debut, its wasn't until Microsoft launched Windows 95, which included a free version of the Internet Explorer browser, that Netscape began to feel the pinch. The move by Microsoft was the first of many in the highly publicized "browser wars" between Microsoft and Netscape.
In an attempt to strengthen Netscape's position, Barksdale launched a plan that included selling Navigator rather than giving it away—a move some analysts criticized for allowing Microsoft to gain an even stronger foothold—and changing the firm's focus to enterprise markets. This shift in focus grew out of what Chief Executive columnist C.J. Prince called Barksdale's vigilance. Prince pointed out that, rather than bask in Netscape's early success, Barksdale "began using it immediately to shore up business on the server side, selling Netscape's commerce, mail, and intranet server applications to big corporate customers." However, despite his foresight, Barksdale's plan flopped because Netscape simply couldn't match the support and services offered by its much larger competitors.
Barksdale laid off 12 percent of Netscape's employees in 1997 after fourth-quarter performance failed to meet expectations. By then, Microsoft had commandeered almost half of Netscape's browser market share. Although the U.S. Department of Justice had responded to Barksdale's earlier allegations that Microsoft was violating anti-compete laws by ordering Microsoft to offer a version of Windows 95 unbundled from Internet Explorer, the decision was later overturned. While this was not the outcome Barksdale had hoped for, the litigation had serious long-term consequences for Microsoft. Eventually, the case over the browser wars turned into a full-blown investigation of alleged monopolist practices by Microsoft, culminating in a 2000 ruling that the computing behemoth be split into two companies. An appeal was pending in early 2001.
Dissatisfied with Netscape's performance, Bark-sdale decided to decline his salary in 1997 and again in 1998. It wasn't until mid-1998 that the firm again seemed to find its niche. According to Newsweek writer Brad Stone, Barksdale was able keep his firm afloat because he "ultimately guided Netscape into the lucrative e-commerce software and Web-portal markets." Although some pundits believe Barksdale waited too long to develop it, Netscape's Netcenter—which acts as a portal for services offered both by Netscape and its clients—became one of the leading full-service Web sites.
In November of 1998, Netscape agreed to be purchased by America Online (AOL) for roughly $4.2 billion. Stock prices soared on news of the deal, and by its completion in March of 1999 the price tag exceeded $10 billion. Barksdale stepped down, $700 million richer, and founded the Barksdale Group, a venture capital company that funds e-commerce startups.
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