business

Annals of the Blue-Chip Egos

Mark Cuban wants a Trump-style profile, George Soros stars in an anti-Bush roadshow, and Paul Allen digs his latest project

By Olga Kharif

Billionaire financier George Soros is passionate about unseating President George W. Bush. Now he's taking his efforts up another notch. In a recent speech in Washington, D.C., Soros, 74, described November's Presidential ballot as "the most important election of my lifetime." In addition to placing anti-Bush ads on Republican blogs, Soros is preparing for a nationwide, preelection tour that will see him deliver close to a dozen anti-Bush speeches in a series of as-yet-undisclosed cities.

Soros isn't the only one taking these presidential elections personally. Craig Newmark, founder of jobs posting Website Craig's List, is getting a bit peeved at the steady stream of misinformation and political insults flooding his posting boards. "It's irritating," he says. "My name is on the site, so I take it personally."

Newmark has tried to sift through his lists' contents every day (and that's a lot of sifting, since the board now operates in about 60 cities worldwide), then call or e-mail offending parties, who would graciously agree, usually, to remove the offending message, he says. Now auction heavyweight eBay (EBAY ) owns a 25% stake in Craig's List, which it purchased in August, so Newmark is about to get some help. The two outfits recently agreed to work together on weeding out spammers and posters spreading misinformation.

LAND, LOTS OF LAND.

  Politics ain't rocket science, which has been very much on the mind of Microsoft (MSFT ) co-founder Paul Allen recently. He's basking in the success of SpaceShipOne, which he backed financially in its successful quest for the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4. Now Allen is working on eventually setting up commercial space flights. In his hometown of Seattle, however, his mind is on terra firma.

Over an eight year period, one of Allen's companies, Vulcan, acquired 60 acres of land within a five-minute walk of Seattle's business district, says Ada Healey, vice-president of real estate at Vulcan in Seattle. Now Allen wants to develop the property -- a $2 billion-plus project which will create 2 million square feet of condos and retail space over 10 years to 15 years. He is also actively looking to buy land in other major metro areas on the West Coast, Healey says. Hey, at this pace, he could yet overtake real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Poor The Donald. His Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts empire is struggling. Last month, Trump said he may take it private. Meanwhile, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is trying to get into the TV spotlight Trump has enjoyed with is reality show The Apprentice.

TOUGH JOB.

  In The Benefactor, a new show on ABC (DIS ) which premiered Sept. 13, Cuban tries to see how far people will go to win $1 million. Cuban claims the show is generating lots of e-mails and news proposals for business deals. A serial entrepreneur, Cuban is co-founder of streaming audio and video powerhouse Broadcast.com, which he sold to Yahoo (YHOO ) in 1999 for $5.7 billion in stock. Good thing Dallas is far away from the Big Apple, because no town is big enough for both of these guys.

For sure, brushes with celebrity do have their benefits, as Clent Richardson, new chief marketing officer of telecom gearmaker Nortel Networks (NT ) recently found out. During his days at T-Mobile, Richardson approved the wireless service provider's decision to hire a new spokesperson, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. One perk? Well, that would be meeting the Oscar-winning actress. "She is absolutely lovely," Richardson gushes, quickly adding that he is happily married with two children. So is Zeta-Jones, to actor Michael Douglas. But, hey, it's show business.

Richardson hopes to capitalize on his experience at T-Mobile and Apple Computer (AAPL ), where he reported directly to Steve Jobs, to give Nortel an image makeover. The company has been embroiled in an accounting scandal for months. "Nortel's brand needs to be polished," Richardson says. True, but how do you make tech gear sexy?

PEOPLE PERSON.

  Speaking of image-polishing, Herb Baum, president and CEO of Dial Corp., which merged with Germany's Henkel last December, has a new book coming out on Oct. 12. The title: The Transparent Leader: How to Build a Great Company Through Straight Talk, Openness, and Accountability, published by HarperCollins.

It will offer tips like: "Tell it like it is, even if it hurts," and "The early bird really does get the worm." Baum, who has turned around $1.4 billion Dial and motor oil great Quaker State, now part of Shell (SC ), and who is also on Pepsi (PBG ) Americas' board, starts work at 5 a.m. and goes home around 6:30 p.m., he says. "Most books tell you how to run a company, but I am telling you how to build a culture to build a successful company," says Baum. "It's all about people." Amen.

Kharif writes for BusinessWeek Online from Portland, Ore.

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