SAN FRANCISCO -- George Samenuk has lived the underdog life before.

"I grew up in Cleveland, rooting for the

Cleveland Browns

," boomed the newly minted

Network Associates

(NETA)

CEO. He's looked mediocrity in the facemask. Now he has to eliminate it.

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Samenuk is a no-bull guy brought in by the Network Associates board to clean up a mess of partners that refused to swallow more product with seven weeks of inventory in hand, the stock carnage that resulted when fourth-quarter revenue bit the dust and a jumbled compilation of over 30 acquisitions in the 1990s. Like the Browns, Network Associates never quite lived up to its chances for glory -- despite the growing unease about viruses and security in the corporate world, NA had trouble kicking its business through the uprights. Instead, it ended up with competing sales forces and a fourth-quarter $127.2 million loss that won't be righted until the second half of 2001. The picture wouldn't be complete without a handful of shareholder lawsuits

Moving towns is not an option in this case.

So Samenuk is stepping into the void left by the departures of CEO Bill Larson, President Peter Watkins and CFO Prabhat Goyal. His resume includes 22 years at

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

, most recently as the head of IBM Americas (a position left vacant by John Thompson, now the CEO of antivirus rival

Symantec

(SYMC) - Get Report

).

During his first six weeks in the huddle, Samenuk has kept instructions simple. He paid for the company's stock put-options problems. He busted up the company's

MyCIO.com

initiative, complaining that it competed with other offerings. He is rolling it into his moneymaker,

McAfee

, and email security segment

PGP

. Check off $10 million in costs saved. Finally, he whipped up 10 million stock options, priced at $4.18 and vesting over four years, motivating his players with what he calls "pre-IPO" priced stock. (Samenuk carved out a sporting haul of 1.6 million shares of those options for himself.)

Next stop: find holes and rush toward them. Samenuk tossed around the phrase "maniacal focus on customer service" at least five times in his talk. Network Associates needs to find sales opportunities and exploit them. With a shake of his head and some serious hand flailing, Samenuk explained that while many Wall Street banks use Network Associates' network-inspecting

Sniffer

product, European and Asian banks don't. That's a hole for running.

In fact, the international opportunity seems to be Samenuk's target for easy numbers. Having spent three years quarterbacking IBM's Asia/Pacific efforts from Singapore, he sees declining international bookings in 2000 as a quick route to revenue momentum.

Over the next few months, he's working on a better picture of 2001 prospects for Network Associates' April conference call. He's also highlighting third-string business to be cut. "This is a company that never killed a product. Some products are No. 10 in their markets," he moaned. He wants to focus sales and marketing resources elsewhere. And he's doing a boilerplate reexamination of everyday costs such as travel, real estate and telecommunications.

Talk about going back to the fundamentals. We'll see if the team's still got legs.

Amazing grace.

PurchasePro.com

(PPRO)

CEO Charles "Junior" Johnson is trying to keep his head up. Wrapping up the final Wednesday presentation at the Robbie conference, Johnson paused for a little reflection. "There've been a lot of questions, a lot of innuendo that's swirled around," Johnson said of

a week in which his company reported

questioned earnings, got downgraded and then was hit with a

racketeering lawsuit. "We get up every morning, we have a very competitive group of people, and we work to make the customers happy, to get a big number on the scoreboard," he said solemnly.