His Net Worth Soars Cyber-firm investor has the golden touch
By AMY FELDMAN Daily News Business Writer
avid Wetherell is emerging as the Warren Buffett of the Internet. The 44-year-old founder of a suburban Boston company called CMGI, which invests in tiny Internet companies and then sells shares to the public, is little known outside his cyber-circle.
But some of the companies CMGI has picked, including Net search engine Lycos and Web site group GeoCities, have become multi-billion-dollar successes, providing extraordinary returns.
If there was any doubt CMGI was a player � perhaps the player � in financing Internet entrepreneurs, that was put to rest last week when Yahoo! agreed to buy GeoCities in a megabucks deal that will net CMGI a cool $1 billion for its shares.
"It was a hard choice for us, and somewhat bittersweet," said CMGI's Peter Mills, Wetherell's West Coast partner and the man behind the GeoCities deal. "We think it could have been a really substantial player in its own right, and in a lot of ways we would just as soon seen that happen," he said.
But when money talks, the financiers at CMGI have no choice but to listen, and the money has been talking a lot lately. The stock market value of the New York Stock Exchange-traded holding company has soared past $5.6 billion � an increase of 129% in January alone � and an incredible 14-fold the past 12 months.
That makes Wetherell, who holds a 20% stake in CMGI worth $1.1 billion, one of America's richest men. In an e-mail, Wetherell � known to spend long hours online � cited time constraints in declining to talk with the Daily News.
But his story is the story of these investment-crazed times: a man who rode the waves of the Internet and Wall Street's love affair with cyber-stocks long before they had caught the public's attention.
"He's just been a money machine," said Ken Winston, an analyst at Needham & Co.
An intense man with a reputation as a workaholic, Wetherell is the youngest of six children in a Connecticut farm family. He studied math and education at Ohio Wesleyan University and planned to become a teacher � until he discovered his love for computer programing.
After a couple of false starts, Wetherell founded the company that became CMGI in 1986 with the purchase of a direct mail company called College Marketing Group. Wetherell built up that company, which sold lists of professors and their courses to textbook publishers, and took it public.