Tea, Sympathy, and Free Calls

Our cup runneth over with a hog-ridin' parson, chess 'n' chips, designer tea bags -- and, oh yeah, Loudeye's brash new CEO

By Olga Kharif


  George Kessinger graduated from a seminary, but he's no ordinary Methodist minister. I mean, he rides a Harley-Davidson. "A parish church is not my bag," he says. No to worry: Kessinger can do plenty of good at Goodwill Industries International, where he's president and CEO. And now he's spreading Goodwill everywhere.

Goodwill, which sells $1.2 billion worth of donated goods each year, just announced its expansion into Korea and England, and a move into Germany is in the works. "There are people around the world who can use our help," says Kessinger. And while, in the past, he'd try and pump up locals to make a Goodwill store happen, now Kessinger takes a more businesslike approach. He's starting to hit up corporations operating in low-wage countries for funds, arguing that it's a good way to show that they're socially responsible. "Goodwill was started by a minister, but we are not a church-basement operation any more," he argues. Amen.


  International Rectifier (IRF ) is a heavyweight in regulating the power consumption of devices such as laptop computers, and the mother of IRF's CEO is a heavy lifter, too -- in chess. Leza Lidow is an internationally recognized artist known for her trademark chess set, comprised of life-size male and female figures. Called "The Eternal Battle of the Sexes," the set features a 24 ft.-by-24 ft. board -- big enough to earn it an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records a few years ago. It travels to exhibits all over the world; in fact, IR CEO Alex Ludow recently watched it being used in a chess game in Moscow.

Alex Ludow's game is a bit more subtle: He's trying to expand the market for IR's chips. While PCs account for the bulk of his outfit's chip sales, their use in lighting fixtures and appliances such as washing machines is expanding at a double-digit clip. "We are in a chronic state, from here on out, of energy shortage," Alex Ludow tells BusinessWeek Online. "This is the No. 1 opportunity." He hopes that IR will become known as the Intel (INTC ) of power management. Of course, getting there will require some savvy strategy. Then again, if in doubt about his next move, he can always ask mom.


  Jeff Pulver recently got a call from telco BellSouth's (BLS ) lawyers. In a Microsoft-like (MSFT ) fashion, they asked Pulver to desist from using the name Bellster for his new phone service, started on Jan. 22. "I don't like to litigate," says Pulver, sounding at peace with the idea of avoiding a squabble. "It might be easier for us to change our name." Of course, that comes from a guy who has been anything but compliant where phone companies are concerned. Last year, in fact, he won a ruling from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against the Bells.

Now, telcos are even more freaked out. fwdOUT, the business's new name as of Feb. 3, is hardly a bellringer. But Pulver's business concept could be a winner. He plans to offer a free service that allows phone users from around the world to share their phone lines. Basically, it enables people to make phone calls for free. Pulver plans to make money off the software enabling the service. Regulators have yet to weigh in on this one. But Pulver is already readying another trip to Washington D.C. to rally the troops. Whatever name Pulver ends up using, sounds like the Bells are in for a monster headache.


  Several years ago, Mike Brochu took software maker Primus Knowledge Solutions (PKSI ) public. He also led negotiations that resulted in the $1.1 billion sale of game maker Sierra On-Line. So, on Feb. 1, when he was appointed CEO of Loudeye (LOUD ), whose technology powers digital-music stores, the move raised eyebrows. Hmm. Could Loudeye be up for sale?

Sorta. "Should someone come along and appreciate the [company's] value, I've always retained an open mind," Brochu tells BusinessWeek Online, adding that "there are always interested parties." So, Brochu, who took over after the previous CEO, Jeffrey Cavins, resigned, is in no hurry. Brochu says he's the guy to take Loudeye to the next level. "That's my forte." Cavins will stick around in -- what else -- an advisory role.


  Peter Hewitt's works -- abstract vases, a paper chess set -- have been sold in museum stores like the one in New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). And over the years, he's designed everything from perfume bottles to clocks, sold at stores like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. Lately, though, he has discovered his real forte: tea -- very, very expensive tea.

Served in glitzy hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, his Tea Forte starts at a whopping $1 a tea bag, depending on quantity. For that money you could buy 10 ordinary tea bags at some grocery stores. But then, Tea Forte is the Lamborghini of tea bags, made out of silky fabric and pyramid-shaped, rather than square like your everyday supermarket bag. Tea Forte bags also contain whole tea leaves instead of the crushed stuff. And the bag's string looks like a plant leaf.

The design is attracting buyers like sugar draws flies. Launched a year ago, Tea Forte is already profitable and set to triple its sales. Starting in April, it will be sold through Origins, a 150-store chain that sells everything from skin-care products to stress-relief diffusing oils. And Hewitt is now busy designing teacups worthy of his precious tea. Designer tea, Hewitt believes, is the Next Big Thing. I'll drink to that!

By Kharif is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Portland, Ore.

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