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Shake-up at Excite@Home: top execs leave, name may change

George Bell says he will resign his position as head of the high-speed Internet company, as part of a broader managerial and strategic shift.

Excite@Home CEO George Bell today said that he will resign his position as head of the high-speed Internet company, one of a series of major managerial and service changes that may even include renaming the company.

Bell, who succeeded Tom Jermoluk in Excite@Home's top spot earlier this year, will remain as chairman of the board of directors at least until the end of 2001, the company said. His departure is one of many large-scale changes that some attribute to dissatisfaction by AT&T, which owns a controlling stake in Excite@Home.

The company also is in the process of reorganizing its consumer broadband services unit, CNET has learned. The unit, which is in the process of being revamped this week, includes the company's namesake high-speed cable modem Internet service and Web content creation units and represents about 70 percent of Excite@Home's revenue.

"This allows us to have greater focus on subscriber growth, growing out our media business and scaling our network," said Excite@Home spokeswoman Melissa Walia.

Sources say the company also is seriously considering a new corporate name, and may revert simply to "Excite." Specific details have yet to be finalized, however. The company has deliberated over a name change for months, sources say, and is hung up on cross-promotional conflicts that would be created with its cable operator partners.

The cable companies market the high-speed Net access service as AT&T@Home or Comcast@Home.

Company representatives declined to speculate. "The company's name is firmly Excite@Home," Walia said, adding that "we constantly look at issues of branding."

As part of the reorganization, several high- and mid-level executives are leaving the company. Richard Gingras, senior vice president and general manager of Excite Studios; Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president of online products; and David Bagshaw, senior vice president of customer care, all plan to leave, Walia confirmed.

Simultaneously, Susan Bratton will be promoted to senior vice president of media sales, and Steve Brookstein will serve as senior vice president of the @Home division. The company also last week added a new chief financial officer and general counsel.

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Excite@Home departure
The company's latest shifts come as Bell alters his role, choosing to relinquish day-to-day operations at Excite@Home as soon as a replacement can be found.

No specific reason other than the "natural evolution" of the high-speed Net access and Web content company was immediately given for his departure.

"I remain deeply committed to continuing as CEO until such time as the board can find a qualified new CEO," Bell said in a statement. "As broadband demand grows, and as we continue to execute, I believe the company's best market opportunities still lie ahead."

Excite@Home's management team has been seeded in recent months with former AT&T employees, as the long-distance giant has moved to take more direct control of the company from its other cable TV partners.

"George has brought in a strong new management team this year, and the board looks forward to his continued leadership during this transition," AT&T CEO Michael Armstrong said in a statement. "The new CEO will work closely with George, the management team and the rest of the board to take Excite@Home to the next level of growth."

The search for a new CEO will begin immediately, the company said.

Excite@Home has been a company in flux for months, with a variety of executive departures, new strategies and a suffering stock.

Jermoluk stepped down earlier this year, turning over the company to Bell. But rumors persisted that Bell, who travels frequently between his East Coast home and the company's West Coast offices, would eventually leave or be ousted.

Rumors also continued to circulate that AT&T, which owns a controlling stake In Excite@Home, was not thrilled with the company's content strategy. A former media and Web portal executive, Bell was the primary champion of Net content at Excite@Home.

Excite@Home representatives said AT&T did not ask Bell to step down--rather, the decision was his own. see story: Exits herald new era at Excite@Home

"He wants to focus more on the strategic values of the company. He cannot serve as a full-time CEO and chairman with the company growing exponentially faster than we expected," Excite@Home's Walia said. "George wants to bring in a seasoned, marquee manager who will run the company operationally."

Bell's departure raises questions about whether AT&T will exert even greater influence over the company by installing a hand-picked chief executive. Byron Smith, a former AT&T executive, already serves as executive vice president of consumer broadband services, where he oversees more than two-thirds of the company.

Smith will also temporarily take over Gingras' old duties at Excite Studios, the company's content development unit, Walia said.

In addition, AT&T has control over the Excite@Home board of directors.