James Love Barksdale offers living proof that all Silicon Valley entrepreneurs aren't cocky young upstarts faking their way to success. This consummate Southern gentleman, known for his folksy sayings and his Mississippi drawl, spent decades at the helm of established corporationsbefore becoming president and CEO of Netscape in 1995. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Barksdale acquired a strict work ethic from his banker father. One of six brothers, Barksdale vied regularly for the "Boy of the Week" award, a silver dollar his parents bestowed on the son who performed an outstanding good deed that week. Barksdale distinguished himself as a leader early, when his eighth grade class elected him president. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1965, he married his college sweetheart, Sally, and went to work as a sales rep for IBM in Memphis. In 1980, he joined Federal Expressin Memphis, Tennessee, where he became chief information officer in 1979, and executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1983. Under his guidance, the company developed the first computer system capable oftracking millions of packages. In 1992, Barksdale left for a stint as president and COO of McCaw Cellular Communications, a wireless phone company which merged with AT&T Wireless in 1994. Barksdale served as CEO of AT&TWireless until 1995 when he joined Netscape in 1995. At FedEx, McCaw, and AT&T, Barksdale demonstrated a talent for using innovative technologies to change the way companies and consumers did business. Netscape, offering the chance to develop and market a radically new technology, seemed like a logical next step. At scrappy young Netscape, Barksdale shed his buttoned-down corporate image to win the devotion of the company's youthful staff, whom he motivated with silly cheers, homespun proverbs, and a strong sense of fair play. Herefused a salary during his first two years at Netscape because he felt the company wasn't performing up to par, but he walked away with $700 million when AOL bought the company in March 1999. Now head of his own investment firm, The Barksdale Group, he continues to affect the future of the Internet by funding e-commerce ventures. Meanwhile, he's also improving the prospects of the Deep South, through extensivephilanthropic efforts in his native state. In February 2000, Barksdale donated $100 million to fund literacy programs in Mississippi. Recently, Barksdale was named co-chairman of the Internet Policy Institute (IPI), a government organization designed to educate elected officials about Internet technology. He is one of more than a dozen distinguished authors who will draft briefing papers on Internet policy issues ranging from privacy to Internet taxation. In December 2000, the papers will be compiled into a book — Briefing the President: What the Next President of the United States Needs to Know About the Internet and its Transformative Impact on Society. Source: Biography
Question What forces have shaped humanity most?
Jim Barksdale: The stirrup led to the fact that riders could get more leverage so they could carry a lance. The lance led to having the long bow. The long bow led to armor. The armor led to the manufacturing process. The manufacturing process led . . . All of these things. There’s a marvelous book called “Pinball Effect”. If we go back and try to train . . . change or try to understand all of the consequential effects of the many things that have happened in humankind, we can always find good things that led to others. And we can always find bad things that led to more bad things. There’s a constant battle between invention and need; but I do know one thing. Necessity is always the mother of invention. And you can trace the beginning of the porcelain industry in China and the soap trade to the modern day microchip and the silicon processing capabilities. All of these things lead to each other. And great organizations came from other needs that translated to others. The need for deep well pumping systems led to the Watts steam engine; which led to new forms of travel; which led to new forms of communication. I love to read about inventions – who invented what. And I believe that the unintended consequences of so many things that happen every day in our lives – and the Internet is a great example – are almost unpredictable in their nature. They are unpredictable, but they’re the great excitement of human learning and discovery.
Recorded on: 7/5/07