Patrick M. Byrne is the CEO of the Internet retailer Overstock.com. Byrne received his B.A. from Dartmouth, studied at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University. He co-founded Overstock.com in 1997 and became CEO in 1999. In 2005, Byrne initiated a controversial campaign against "naked short selling" in which he accused a "Sith Lord" and various financial firms of sabotaging Overstock's share price. Byrne also serves as head of First Class Education, an education lobbying group that seeks to require that 65% of all educational spending be spent "in the classroom." A strong proponent of school vouchers, Byrne spent almost four million dollars in advertising for a bill that would have given Utah residents who enroll their children in private schools taxpayer-supported subsidies. The bill lost, 62-38%.
Patrick Byrne: Interesting. Well there’s two ways to explain it, and the part that’s the most interesting is I knew a guy when I was in high school – a guy named Charlie, a good fellow, Chaluca – and whatever you wanted . . . He was part of sort of the Greek mob I would say that runs a lot of things in the D.C. area. And whatever you wanted, he’d say, “Yeah, yeah. I know a guy in a warehouse. I’ll get it for you real cheap. I know a guy. I’ve got a cousin in the factory,” or something like that. We all wondered if it was hot or something. Well it just turns out that Chaluca knew people, and he did know . . . And it turns out that at the fringes of retail, there’s this world of folks that folks like you and I normally never meet. They’re called “joppers”, and they tend to be “bada-bing, bada-boom, knows-a-guy-that-knows-a-guy” kind of fellows. And I learned about that world originally through him. And then as the idea for Overstock was let’s just . . . For the consumers who don’t have a friend like Charlie, we’ll be a company of Charlies. We’ll be out there wheeling and dealing trying to find these special opportunities, bringing them into a warehouse in Salt Lake, putting them up online. So we’re . . . we’re for the consumer who doesn’t have his own Charlie. They just need to know us. That was sort of . . . That was one way to explain it. I did find that interesting. I didn’t think I was . . . I thought I’d be doing it for about six months until I found someone to replace myself, but that . . . It’s like the God . . . Al Pacino in Godfather III. “Every time I start to get out they suck you back in!”
Recorded on: 10/29/07