"Over there! Over there!"
That was, in essence, the tune that
Chairman and CEO David Wetherell was singing Tuesday night as he kicked off a Manhattan analysts' conference for his Massachusetts-based Internet empire. And it was one of several themes, including consolidation and profitability, that appeared likely to carry over to the daylong Wall Street presentations that the operating company/venture investment house had lined up for Wednesday.
Rallying the troops amid cratering Internet stocks, Wetherell told his audience Tuesday night, "The Internet ain't dead yet. ... There's tremendous growth still going on."
But, he said, most of the future growth will take place overseas, particularly in Asia. That area of the world will be the fastest-growing Internet market, Wetherell predicted, over the next ten years. Europe is growing too, he said, but the Continent's many languages and the difficulty of finding an appropriate multicountry partner will make it a tough consumer market to win over.
Other promising areas, Wetherell said, include the enterprise market and infrastructure for a multidevice Internet.
Wetherell, stung by criticisms that CMGI is far from profitability and that he's a dealmaker, not a company operator, reminded his audience that in the mid-1990s, before CMGI became the Internet phenomenon it has become, Wetherell indeed operated it with positive cash flow and profits. "We're going to do that again soon," Wetherell said with a smile. "We're going to get to that easy life again."
Certainly, profits might lead to an easier life for CMGI shareholders. Well off a split-adjusted 52-week high of $163.50, CMGI's stock fell $1.19, or 5%, Wednesday morning to $20.38.
Next week or the following week, said Wetherell, CMGI would be providing guidance to Wall Street about its financial targets for the current fiscal year, which ends July 31, 2001. Already,
CMGI has predicted that four out of its five operating segments will be profitable by the fiscal year's end, excluding noncash expenses. "You will see we will make good on our promise to achieve profitability," he said.
Wetherell also continued to make good on the plans announced a month ago to boil the company's 17 majority-owned companies down to somewhere between five and ten. Following the September announcement that Internet infrastructure firm
was acquiring instant message firm
, Wetherell promised a merger of another two majority-owned units for Wednesday. In that case, CMGIon acquired
In fact, the only operating business line that Wetherell said might have room for more than one business is "infrastructure and enabling technologies," including CMGion,
and a few other firms. "The rest
of the business lines I'd like to see get down to one
company, personally, by the end of the fiscal year," Wetherell said.