Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Meet Peter Currie, Facebook's New Money Man (For Now)

2516540711_ca5b22a4b6

Back in the heyday, Peter Currie was the money man to see in Silicon Valley.

As CFO of Netscape Communications, he led the start-up into history, as the first great Internet rocket ship, when it went public on Aug. 9, 1995.

With the first consumer-friendly browser software, which made the Web easily understandable to the masses, Netscape was at the red-hot center of the nascent digital revolution.

“Wall Street went bonkers,” said one news reporter about the IPO, and the craziness did not stop for quite a while.

Rising to insane levels, the stock was ground zero of the Internet gold rush too, despite the fact that it had no profits to speak of.

But it did have a 23-year-old co-founder and tech wunderkind in Marc Andreessen, and a growth trajectory that was astounding.

If you think it sounds somewhat similar to Facebook today–where Currie will now help out as temporary financial adviser after the social-networking site parted ways with its CFO, Gideon Yu, yesterday, following mutual disagreements and announced a search for a replacement–you are correct.

In that job, the 53-year-old Currie will be helping Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, 24, navigate–albeit temporarily–through some stormy economics seas on a journey that will hopefully end in an initial public offering.

The search for a new CFO will also involve Currie, obviously, and will be conducted by Jim Citrin of Spencer Stuart.

But until a new CFO is in place, Facebook’s quest still entails sorting out a substantive advertising monetization strategy while also keeping up its speedy growth rates and managing the high costs that mount with its popularity.

That certainly was Netscape’s major challenge, which it never met successfully and which was made worse by intense attacks from Microsoft (MSFT) on Netscape’s core browser business.

That eventually led to the antitrust trial against the software giant, even as Netscape saw its star fall dramatically.

It was sold to AOL in 1998 for $4 billion, a shadow of its bubble valuation, and is now more of a footnote than an ongoing tech product (although the now-popular Mozilla browser is a direct descendant of Netscape).

In fact, in 2008, Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL dropped its support for the Netscape browser and said it was no longer releasing new versions.

Still, a lot of former Netscape execs now hold other key jobs in the Web space.

Its investor relations exec, Quincy Smith, now heads up the digital arm of CBS (CBS), for example.

And Andreessen has started a number of companies and has transformed himself into an kind of elder statesman of Silicon Valley of late, as well as a newly minted venture investor.

picture-2091

Andreessen, many sources said, was a shadow influence on Zuckerberg’s decisions related to Yu, with whom relations had gotten tense, and to bring in Currie (pictured here).

Currie is certainly a great choice, in terms of the close-knit tech sector’s respect and experience.

Currie is also unusually tall, aggressively avuncular and laid-back, loves Elvis and enjoys pranking reporters like BoomTown. (Case in point: He once tried to spread the rumor that I am short due to a medical condition.)

Now the president of Currie Capital, a private investment firm, he had previously worked at General Atlantic in private equity.

After Netscape, he was a partner and co-founder of the Barksdale Group, an early-stage venture capital firm.

Before Netscape, he was CFO of McCaw Cellular Communications and also worked at Morgan Stanley (MS).

Currie is also board-happy, serving as a director of a variety of tech firms, private and public. They have included CNET Networks, Critical Path, Clearwire (CLWR), Safeco, Ofoto, Tellme Networks and Zantaz, as well as Sun Microsystems (JAVA).

He has an MBA from Stanford University and went to Williams College.

Here is the video interview I did with Currie and others at an event to support his friend and former Netscape exec Mike Homer, who recently died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (Currie is at the 2:16-minute mark):

(Image of Netscape IPO T-shirt courtesy of intothefuzz on Flickr.)


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald