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USWeb's Firmage steps down

The Internet service firm names Robert Shaw CEO, while Joe Firmage steps down and prepares to publish his new book on the Net.

USWeb announced today that it has named Robert Shaw as its CEO, while its current chairman, CEO, and cofounder Joe Firmage will become the company's chief strategist.

The firm provides strategic Internet services to help its clients to try to pull-in revenue, profit, market share, and customer loyalty through Internet strategies and systems.

The company said that Shaw brings with him a strong background of building global professional service organizations. Prior to this appointment, Shaw was executive vice president for worldwide consulting services at Oracle. During his six years at Oracle, Shaw was responsible for building the global consulting organization and infrastructure, setting strategy, defining the services offering, service delivery, and client satisfaction.

"I want to stress and point out that this announcement is done from a position of exceptional strength," said Firmage during a telephone conference. "We have chosen to take this step proactively--this is not reactive to any issue or concern."

That may have been an oblique reference to an unusual Web site that Firmage has posted to publicize a book he is planning to publish on the Internet on November 24.

USWeb and Firmage describe the Web site, which is hosted by USWeb and identifies the site's ties to Firmage, as a personal project, not a corporate activity, but USWeb competitors have stirred up some press attention in the last week.

The company insists Firmage's stepping down as CEO is not related to the Web site, dubbed Kairos and apparently sponsored by the International Space Sciences Organization, which lists Firmage as a founder.

Firmage describes the site as "a provocative marketing campaign " for the book.

"We have collaborated on a hypothetical scenario of how we could interpret the history and future of science and some important myths of our civilization in a more unified and synthesized manner," Firmage said, adding that he's working on the project with a group of physicists, historians, and theologians, whom he declined to name. He's editor and publisher of the book and is writing sections on how the Internet is fundamentally changing society.

Professional services companies are playing a larger role in the market, with research firm IDC projecting that there will be a 50 percent increase in the size of the market during the next 12 months, according to Firmage.

"I think we have a tremendous headstart," Shaw said during the conference call. "That is not to say that there won't be competition."

USWeb will have to compete with newly formed companies as well as the established powerhouses like Booz Allen & Hamilton and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

"We must out-execute the upstarts," added Shaw. "And by being more nimble and smarter and leading the market we will work against the more traditional firms."

Shaw oversaw the recruiting and professional development of more than 15,000 consultants in Oracle's worldwide consulting services group. He helped grow the organization to profitability and revenues in excess of $2.5 billion during his tenure at Oracle.

Prior to joining Oracle, Shaw was the partner responsible for the San Francisco office of Booz Allen & Hamilton and was also managing partner in charge of the IT practice for a subsidiary of Coopers & Lybrand.

Firmage will move into a new role as chief strategist. He said he will focus on translating the paradigm-shifting forces created by the emergence of the Internet into practical business advice for clients.

"I will be able to use my intellect and strategic vision for the company as a whole," Firmage said about his new position. "I don't have an ego for my title of CEO. I always want people to hire better people than themselves in their divisions."

Upon the planned completion of the merger of USWeb with CKS Group to form Reinvent Communications later this year, Shaw will become CEO of Reinvent and will be a member of the board. Mark Kvamme, chairman of CKS, is expected to become chairman of the board of the new combined company.

The merger is still pending regulatory and stockholder approval, and the company said it is on track and may close by the end of November. Upon it completion, the combined companies will be able to take a customer from designing its Web-based strategy and site to setting a marketing plan and allowing customers to conduct e-commerce transactions.

Firmage will also contribute to developing business strategy for USWeb and Reinvent Communications after the expected close of the merger. Firmage will continue his service on the board of directors. He will report to Shaw.

Toby Corey, USWeb's president and COO, concluded: "We are confident that Shaw can lead the company to the next level."