SAN FRANCISCO -- If there's a wilder CEO than
Naveen Jain, I haven't met him. After a
recent story I wrote about Redmond, Wash.-based InfoSpace, Jain called me repeatedly from any number of continents, emailed me as late as 11 at night and as early as 7 the next morning. He's hard to understand, talking a mile a minute, but his verve is infectious -- he appears to have the energy of two men. Maybe all that coffee up there.
But as impossible as it seems, the Infospace executive suite is about to get even more energy. Arun Sarin, who served as CEO of
U.S. and Asia-Pacific operations, has joined InfoSpace as CEO. Jain, the founder, will keep the chairman title and add chief strategist to his business card.
"I work 20 hours a day, man," Jain says. "Really, I prayed to the God and asked him how I could have more than 24 hours a day. And one day, He said to me, hire a guy who is smarter than you, who works just as hard as you, and you'll have a 48-hour day. And then the God brought me Arun."
Sarin will have to work hard to keep up with Jain, but Jain had to work hard to land Sarin. Sarin largely built San Francisco-based Airtouch from a single-license cell-phone carrier into a global telecommunications company in two dozen countries. After the merger of Airtouch and Vodafone, he was a key player in the subsequent push to land
. He's a big shot's big shot; a director of
So after Jain met Sarin at a February press conference, the next morning he began a campaign of phone calls and emails to Sarin. "Naveen kept coming up and bugging me," says Sarin. "This is classic Naveen, he comes at you and at you and at you. ... I'm 45, there's a time in life when you have done what you're going to do; it's time to really take a bigger chance."
Sarin joins InfoSpace at an opportune time, in part because his stock options priced on Monday, when InfoSpace closed at 45 7/16, its lowest close in more than three months. "This had nothing to do with the stock price," says Jain, who says he owns 65 million shares of the company. "This has been in the works for months and, really, when you look at InfoSpace a few years from now, the stock difference between now and a month ago will be a rounding error. Whether it's at $45 or $100, it won't matter when the stock is at $500." The specifics of Sarin's pay package weren't disclosed.
Sarin, who lives in the tony San Francisco suburb of Piedmont with his wife, Rummi, a daughter, 15, and son, 10, won't immediately relocate to Redmond. "They're not thrilled about it," he says. "But I'm going to be spending more time on
than anywhere else."
Source: Securities and Exchange Commission
InfoSpace is literally being transformed from a dot-com to a wholesale wireless information company; it dropped dot-com from its name seven weeks ago, and, according to Jain, will derive more than a third of its earnings from wireless this year. The company is growing at a blowout pace. But Sarin brings a telecommunications expertise that Jain simply didn't have.
"I know everybody in the Internet world," says Jain. "And Arun knows everybody in telecommunications all over the world. So he'll keep doing what he's been doing in telecommunications, and I'll keep doing in Internet and we will win. InfoSpace is an arms dealer, no matter who wins --
, wireless or Web -- we win."
Cory Johnson files weekly from TheStreet.com's San Francisco Bureau. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he neither owns nor shorts individual stocks, although he owns shares of TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Johnson welcomes your feedback at
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