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@Home's Jermoluk files to sell shares

The Net-over-cable firm's chief executive files to sell $16 million in shares as rumors circulate that the CEO may leave the company after the Excite merger closes.

@Home Network chief executive Thomas Jermoluk has filed to sell more than $16 million worth of stock in the high-speed Net access provider, according to regulatory documents filed this week.

The proposed sale of 100,000 See newsmaker: Feeling @Home with CEO Tom Jermoluk shares of @Home stock represents only a small portion of Jermoluk's holdings in the company.

But it comes amid speculation that Jermoluk may take a diminished role at--or resign--the company he has led since 1996, after it closes its acquisition of Web portal Excite. Shareholders from both companies are set to vote on the deal next Friday.

In a column today, the San Jose Mercury News, quoting unnamed sources, reported that Jermoluk may eventually leave @Home, clearing the way for Excite CEO George Bell to run the show.

But today the company denied that Jermoluk is leaving. "[Jermoluk] has committed to staying with the company and has been the driving force behind its success," said a spokesman.

Excite declined comment.

Bell's new title of president will be announced at the shareholders' meetings next week, the spokesman said, reiterating that Jermoluk has no plans to step aside. As expected, Bell also will be added as a member of the new company's board of directors.

Jermoluk made the decision to name Bell in the role of president, in part because the company has grown in size, according to @Home spokesman Matt Wolfram. Jermoluk has been introducing Bell as president to the cable partners since April, Wolfram said.

"[Jermoluk] needed a strong partner in running and fully developing the large opportunities ahead of the company," Wolfram said.

The combined company will be called Excite @Home, and will trade under the ticker symbol "ATHM," according to an Excite investor relations official.

Analysts said they would not be surprised if Jermoluk's role with the company changed following the acquisition, but they said it is unlikely that the chief executive would leave @Home. Jermoluk is expected to retain the titles of CEO and chairman after the deal closes, one source said.

Bell is expected to take a hands-on role with the merged company's day-to-day operations, and is likely to be named president and chief operating officer, analysts said. Whether Jermoluk eventually leaves @Home, Bell will continue to have a heightened role in running the company, they said.

"They're obviously making room for George [Bell], who is a very competent manager," said Kristen Koh, a financial analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston. "It makes sense as @Home becomes more of a vertically integrated Internet company, encompassing everything from the front-end media to the back-end infrastructure."

But Koh downplayed the speculation that Jermoluk would leave the company in the near future.

"With any sort of merger there are re-definitions of the roles people play," she said. "As any business transitions into a more mature business, the role of the visionary evolves and it makes room for more operating people to come in."

Koh and a group of institutional investors met with Jermoluk and Bell at the companies' corporate offices in Redwood City, California, yesterday for investment bank CSFB's annual technology "field trip." The two executives led a presentation together and seemed to get along well, Koh said, noting she does not believe there is any political wrangling between the two corporate leaders.

Bell formerly was an executive at Times-Mirror Magazines, while Jermoluk made his mark in computer hardware with Silicon Graphics.

Despite the speculation about his future role, Jermoluk did recently earn a large bonus for his performance as @Home's chief executive, partly for completing the Excite buyout.