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DOT-COM HALO : The Rise and Fall of Michael Saylor
MicroStrategy's CEO Sped to the Brink

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Timeline in Headlines: At the peak of the Internet bubble, MicroStrategy's Michael J. Saylor was worth an estimated $13 billion and was predicting his company would be key to transforming Americans' every day life through technology. Two years later, those ambitious plans are on hold as Saylor and his firm struggle to navigate the dot-com bust.
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About this series

This series of articles is based on interviews with Michael Saylor and more than 100 people who have known, watched or worked with him. It is also based on court documents, MicroStrategy memos and internal e-mails.

Sunday
Tycoon: Michael Saylor had a vision that was not just about software. For a while, everyone wanted to be a part of it.

Monday
Damage control: Forced by outside accountants to revise MicroStrategy's books, Saylor and his board struggle to keep the company afloat.

Tuesday
Facing the SEC: Saylor maintained that Microstrategy's mistakes had been negligible. But unless he admitted some fault, his problems were going to be worse.

Wednesday
Aftermath: "I made the mistake of being passionate and idealistic. ... That was my sin."



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By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2002; Page A01

First of four articles

There were times, when it was all going right, when Michael Saylor would stare out the huge oval windows of his leased Gulfstream jet and fixate on the Rocky Mountains passing below him. He would marvel at how he was covering more territory in five minutes than the western settlers covered by wagon over several months.

This was back in 2000, at the height of the Internet age. In a few Nasdaq months, Saylor's newly public firm, MicroStrategy Inc., had gained a stock value that exceeded the total worth of his former employer, the venerable DuPont Co.,198 years old. In a few Nasdaq seconds, Saylor could amass more wealth than his father had in his 30-year Air Force career.

It didn't matter that MicroStrategy was just a software maker that helped companies manage their inventory and customer information. Saylor had what he called "the dot-com halo," the aura that came with being not just a business, but a revolutionary one. He become an icon to his "constituencies," as he called them -- the media, Wall Street, his employees. He wasn't building a firm as much as a belief system.

"We're purging ignorance from the planet," Saylor often declared in his high, throaty voice. He was on a "crusade for intelligence," one that sounded just grandiose enough to be plausible at a time when technology chief executives stirred such exuberance, rational or otherwise.

On Feb. 4, 2000, with MicroStrategy's shares at $142 and his paper wealth shooting into the billions, Saylor hosted a 35th birthday party for himself at Cities, the fashionable Adams Morgan restaurant. "Guess who's old enough to run for president?" the invitation said, and Saylor duly announced his candidacy that night, a would-be standard bearer for "The Technology Party." He was kidding. Or seemed to be. But at the time it seemed weirdly possible.

Then, just a few weeks later, it all crashed -- a flip of fortunes that was sudden even by the exaggerated norms of the late 1990s and the early part of 2000. Saylor's life and companybecame object lessons in how ephemeral success could be in the new economy, how perspective could be so easily lost, and how myths -- and stock fortunes -- could so easily vanish. When MicroStrategy's story began to unravel, at least some industry and Wall Street watchers believe, it signaled the end of that era. "This one popped the bubble," wrote James Cramer, columnist for TheStreet.com. "MicroStrategy forever changed the Internet mania."

In a starkly compressed time frame, Saylor was transformed from a new world titan to an age-old parable: "It's the same story in a way of a classic Greek tragedy," said Don Griffith, a former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who grew up with Saylor in the Dayton suburb of Fairborn, Ohio. "It's the story of Icarus and Daedalus. Mike was the guy who flew too close to the sun."

Saylor grew up wanting to be an Air Force fighter pilot, attended MIT on an ROTC scholarship and entered business after a heart murmur grounded him. He often applied flying metaphors to his corporate rise. He spoke of how the "juice" of high-speed business can either "skyrocket" an entrepreneur or "blow him up." He also did some of his best thinking in the back of the Gulfstream, the night sky heightening his solitude. These were mostly peaceful meditations. But not the one on the flight that Saylor remembers best.

Late on Friday night, March 17, 2000, Saylor was flying to Washington from San Francisco. It was a few days before MicroStrategy was scheduled to sell newly issued stock to the public, which would help the company pay for its CEO's manic expansion plans. The sale was expected to raise $2 billion -- the largest public offering in software industry history.

Saylor was returning from a "roadshow," the ritual that comes before a stock issue in which executives promote their companies to big investors and fund managers around the country. By every appearance, Saylor's meetings were going well, and shares of MicroStrategy finished the week at $226.75. "I'm at the top of the world, everybody loves me," recalled Saylor, who was then the wealthiest person in the Washington area, at least on paper. "Everybody loves the company, we're hitting the cover of every magazine. . . . I was household."

But Saylor knew that he had a secret. A week earlier, MicroStrategy's financial auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, had called into question some of the company's accounting records. The accountants wanted MicroStrategy to restate some of its financial reports, a potentially devastating step that could send Wall Street into a selling panic. Negotiations had raged all week between officials of MicroStrategy and PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine the need for, or magnitude of, a restatement. Meanwhile, Saylor continued to pitch his company to eager investors in Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

When the roadshow ended, Saylor flew home, sullen and alone on a beige leather sofa in the back of the $40 million jet. "I know the gods have this wicked sense of humor because of what they did to me," Saylor said later. "They put me in a position where I was simultaneously the most successful person of my generation and in hell. All at the same time."

Like the company he still leads, Saylor seems diminished and weary by what he calls "my ordeal." In the same way that presidents, in their photographs, look as though they've aged eight years for every four they've been in the White House, Saylor, now 36, seems to have aged about six since his 35th birthday. His boyish flop of brown hair has gone half gray. His fresh round face has become jowly and bearded. His chest-out walk, once the stomping gait of a man who knew exactly where he wanted to go, has acquired an uncertain slump.

In a series of interviews between May and January, Saylor seemed at once humbled by his experience and bitter. At times, he drew comparisons between himself and victims of diseases or violent crimes. "I don't think that the trauma or stress I felt is any worse than the stress that a father feels when his son has leukemia," Saylor said last summer, describing his feelings during his company's sudden fall. "Or whose wife is dying. I think it's the same . . . in my case, it was my company catching leukemia."

Saylor always fancied his mission to be a seminal one. His role models were Caesar, Churchill, Gandhi and Gates. He decorated his basement with framed press clippings about himself. He kept a sculpture of Rodin's "The Thinker" in his office and he had a searing need to believe that MicroStrategy was doing work for the ages. And, for a while, his constituencies needed to believe in him as well -- in all his possibility, in all the new economic rules that his success seemed to prove.

As it turned out, Saylor earned his place in history through the narrative of his rise and swoon. This series of articles reconstructs that story. It is based on interviews with Saylor and more than 100 people who have known, watched or worked with him. It is also based on court documents, company memos and internal e-mails that were provided to, or summarized for, The Washington Post by officials at MicroStrategy and sources involved in private lawsuits and an SEC investigation of the company.

What emerges is a vivid dispatch from one of the most perplexing and tumultuous periods in economic history. It also provides one of the great, and largely unseen, corporate dramas in the evolution of the Washington area as a major technology center.

At the story's hyperkinetic center is Michael Saylor, who became the exemplar of two eras, boom and bust, in their greatest extremes. And it all happened in a matter of days.

"I guess," Saylor said, smiling at the thought, "that I represent a strange piece of history."

'Hit the Floor Running'

The thinking went like this: If Thomas Edison were to write a book about his life and legacy, it would be called "Electricity." So Michael Saylor believed that he should write a treatise of his own, called "Intelligence."

His pursuit -- to make the species up-to-the-second smarter -- was so elemental to civilization that it needed to be distilled in a book, one of those really big books, maybe more than a thousand pages. Not for vanity's sake, but for history's.

On Jan. 31, 2000, before a meet-and-greet with former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, Saylor met with the literary agent Amanda "Binky" Urban in Midtown Manhattan to discuss "Intelligence." She was intrigued by the idea, and they agreed to keep in touch.

People throughout Saylor's life describe him as the smartest person they have ever met. "Usually you find a guy with [Saylor's] intellect in the back of some lab, interacting with rats," said Joe Robert, a Washington area real estate maven who befriended Saylor during his rise. But Saylor was no outcast, Robert said. He could converse on diverse topics and with multiple audiences: He could quote from Augustus and "Caddyshack" alike, talk circuitry with engineers, numbers with financiers, Big Vision with investors and bachelorhood with the media.

He loved music, played the tenor sax and trombone as a teenager, and would later teach himself guitar and piano. He was valedictorian at Park Hill High School in Fairborn, where he lived from age 11 with his parents, brother and sister in a small aluminum-sided duplex on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He was raised in a taut, Southern Baptist household, steeped in chore regimens and vice-free conservatism -- no cussing, smoking, drinking. "Hit the floor running, son," Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Saylor would yell into his son's bedroom, after waking him at 6 a.m. with a loud clap. The $50,000 ROTC scholarship Saylor earned from MIT was worth five times the amount of his family's entire savings at that time.

John Sterman, a marketing professor at MIT, said Saylor was "always an unusual fellow, far more serious than most at MIT. . . . a student you wouldn't forget." For a class project, Saylor built a computer-simulation model that applied the ideas of Plato's "Republic" to an ideal civilization. To meet his undergraduate thesis requirement, Saylor, inspired by Machiavelli's "Discourses," wrote a computer program that simulated the reactions of varied government systems to calamities such as famines, plagues and war. He graduated with highest honors, earning a degree in aeronautics and astronautics, as well as one in science, technology and society.

Saylor started MicroStrategy in 1989 with Sanju Bansal, his MIT roommate and fraternity brother. Saylor had spent two years writing computer models for DuPont's titanium dioxide business, but wanted to start his own business. He persuaded his boss to give him a $250,000 consulting contract to continue building computer models. The deal came with office space near DuPont's headquarters in Wilmington, Del.

In 1992 MicroStrategy developed an early version of the product that would become its franchise: software that allowed companies to extract useful bits of information from their unwieldy corporate databases. By using the software, for instance, McDonald's could learn that a Chicago franchise was four times more likely to sell Big Macs on winter Friday nights than was a franchise in Miami (where customers disproportionately preferred filet-of-fish sandwiches). While seemingly trivial, such data would prove vital to the companies, and even as other software companies were developing similar "data-mining" products, as they were called, Saylor and Bansal were able to impress and attract an early array of Fortune 500 customers.

In 1994 Saylor and Bansal moved the company and its 50 employees from Wilmington to Tysons Corner, figuring it would be easier to lure elite workers to the Washington area, "a major center of civilization," Saylor said. MicroStrategy doubled its revenue every year between 1994 and 1997.

'Information Everywhere'

Part of Saylor's marketing savvy in the late 1990s sprang from his unwillingness to stay confined to the niche of back-office technology. No matter how solid MicroStrategy's business and product was, Saylor felt restless. What Saylor craved -- and ultimately sold -- was a higher corporate purpose for MicroStrategy: He wasn't so much making tools as much as he was "freeing information." He wasn't a seller of data-mining software but a purveyor of "intelligence," just as Bill Gates's mission at Microsoft wasn't simply to sell software for personal computers but to put "a computer on every desktop."

In computing history, which Saylor studied closely, the dominant companies have been the ones that could shroud the unsexy functionality of their products in the sleek possibility of What Could Come Next. As Internet, database and wireless technologies evolved, Saylor said, information would soon become an essential utility, "like water," and MicroStrategy would be the company that spread it everywhere. Enlightening McDonald's about its Big Mac sales was just a start of a grand technological crusade that would eventually "purge ignorance from the planet."

By the time MicroStrategy held its initial public offering of stock in 1998, Saylor was gaining little notice for his data-mining products and plenty for his vow to spread "information everywhere." He began to pitch his company's software products in mystical rhetoric. The back cover of MicroStrategy's prospectus -- published in conjunction with the IPO -- included a boldface quotation from science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Shares were priced at $6 for the June 11 offering (adjusted for a Jan. 4, 2000, stock split), and they doubled by midday. On the Merrill Lynch trading floor that morning, Saylor grinned as he noted that "MSTR," MicroStrategy's ticker symbol, was listed on the Nasdaq ticker right after "MSFT" (Microsoft), a company that Saylor idolized.

"Warning," a message flashed over the trading floor. "Do not confuse MSTR with MSFT."

The Grand and the Grandiose

On the surface, MicroStrategy seemed the prototype of the democratic new-economy workplace: Employees could wear jeans to work and were always free to e-mail the CEO with ideas. But these egalitarian appearances belied the company's military ethos, with Saylor as a ubiquitous general in a theater of his own creation. To a degree that is unusual among even the most obsessive entrepreneurs, MicroStrategy has been Saylor's life. He worked late into most nights, often seven days a week.

Saylor fervidly protected his ownership stake in the firm, and this insistence almost led to the company's demise before it left Wilmington. In 1994, the firm's senior managers -- Sid Banerjee, Dave Sherwood, Steve Trundell, Eduardo Sanchez, Ed Jurcisin and Manish Acharya -- were working long hours and receiving relatively low salaries. When they asked for an equity stake, Saylor and Bansal resisted until the managers finally walked out en masse on a Friday. By Monday, the group had retained a lawyer. Negotiations ensued, and the dispute was settled when Saylor and Bansal agreed to grant the managers a collective 7 percent of the young firm.

Saylor was even more hesitant to give any ownership stake to outside investors, particularly venture capitalists, a species he publicly loathed and distrusted. He feared that venture capitalists -- or other big investors -- would "dilute the vision" of his company. At the time of the IPO, Saylor retained a remarkable 73.1 percent, or 22.5 million, of the company's shares (Bansal held another 12 percent). This effectively allowed Saylor to do as he pleased with his firm, unconcerned by any possibility of ever being overruled, taken over or forced out by other investors.

Saylor's childhood bred in him a strong sense of insularity and control. "I'm very at home in paternalistic environments," Saylor said. Each winter, he took his employees on a Caribbean cruise (no spouses allowed) to promote corporate solidarity. New workers underwent a rigorous "boot camp" where they were drilled on the arcana of MicroStrategy's business and required to complete an outdoor ropes course. Saylor's top lieutenants comprised a brainy fraternity of longtime male pals, several of whom had attended MIT together. Executives who came from other companies often had brief and unpleasant experiences at MicroStrategy.

Saylor was prone to volcanic impatience. "Are you trying to kill us?" Saylor would boom in meetings, or invoke a well-known Gatesism, "That's the stupidest [expletive] thing I've ever heard." If a person was talking too slowly, Saylor would often take out his Dell laptop and start doing other work. His longtime associates viewed him with a mix of awe and dread: They marveled at his zooming technology mind and also spent a lot of time anticipating what might preoccupy or set him off next. One executive compared the dynamic of MicroStrategy's executive team to "alcoholics around a dinner table."

When he was not speaking, Saylor's eyes would assume a sunken deadness. He spoke in a robotic cadence, as if delivering social graces -- "Nice to see you again" -- by dint of some how-to program embedded in his skull. He would sometimes talk with such energy that his face twitched. He habitually slammed doors, even when he was not upset. Even his closest friends say Saylor can often be long-winded, tiresome and just odd.

But Saylor could also be inspiring, generous and loyal. He rarely fired people. "You had to really underperform at MicroStrategy to get fired," said Manish Acharya, who left the firm in early 1999. He recalls firing someone with Saylor -- and how Saylor spoke of being "traumatized" for days afterward.

Saylor's loyalty was returned: MicroStrategy's turnover rate -- about 7 percent in 1997 and 1998 -- was low among software companies. With only moderate irony, employees would dub themselves members of the "cult of MicroStrategy," and Saylor was their charismatic leader. A television monitor in the lobby played a constant loop of Saylor's speeches.

If they bought into his mission, Saylor told prospective employees at the end of their boot camp sessions, they could help him "bend reality through sheer force of will." Saylor's boot-camp sermons lasted hours, sometimes up to nine. "Heaven for me is a microphone and a captive audience," Saylor said, and he relished the gamesmanship of sales and motivational talks, "that deer-in-the-headlights moment when you know you've flipped someone," he said in 1998.

"I've never seen someone who could transfix a room like Mike Saylor," said Mark Bisnow, who was an aide to Rep. John Anderson and Sen. Robert J. Dole, and whom Saylor hired in April 1998 to be his personal publicist, or, officially, his chief of staff. Bisnow's mission was, in Saylor's words, to "put me in front of the right people" -- Binky Urban and Robert Rubin, among them. Bisnow ran Saylor's public life as a permanent branding campaign, which seemed about perfect to Saylor.

"I'm a political leader," Saylor declared to Washingtonian's Harry Jaffe in early 2000. "I have a nation. I have constituents. I have investors." Bisnow worked tirelessly on his behalf, calling anyone, anywhere, who might be worth Saylor's seduction. Saylor eventually started calling Bisnow his "secretary of state."

Others called him worse. Several MicroStrategy executives and board members complained -- usually privately -- that Bisnow had become an unchecked agent of Saylor's ego. One Washington technology chief called Bisnow "Michael's crack dealer," feeding Saylor's addiction to attention.

"If he ever had any impulse of restraint, Bisnow would push him back in the other direction," said a longtime MicroStrategy executive who left the company in 2000. Profiles of Saylor included his soliloquies on his ideal wife and the detail that he had a butler, Brian. It was said that Saylor looked like Tom Cruise and dated Queen Noor, King Hussein's widow (whom he says he has never met).

"I was delighted to help the world discover Mike Saylor," recalled Bisnow, who left the company last year. The people who criticized Bisnow at MicroStrategy "complained all the way to the bank," he said.

In late 1999 and early 2000, a recurring source of Saylor's fascination -- and, in turn, the media's -- was his plan to build a "Versailles" on 48 acres in Great Falls. He issued a 100-page request for proposals from architects and sent memos to his public relations staff that outlined some basic features he envisioned for his compound -- rooftop conservatory, nine-hole golf course, Japanese gardens. He referred to the compound as "my 21st-century villa," though Bisnow cautioned him that the term "villa" connoted the Italian leisure class, not the intellectual renaissance he was now leading.

"Mike let himself become this image that kept feeding on itself," said his friend, America Online co-founder Jim Kimsey. "After a while it's drinking your own bathwater. After a while it became hubris."

'Hey, Mike, You're Rich'

Saylor had lived a sheltered life: He spent his teenage nights eating ice cream at Friendly's and lifting weights in his garage with his best friends, Griffith and Tom Spahr, who would later join him at MicroStrategy. They played board games and dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons. "Mike was always the Dungeonmaster," Spahr recalled, referring to the player who controls the game. "He liked to create and control situations."

When Saylor arrived at MIT, he had never eaten Chinese food, owned just one suit (beige polyester) and sported a frizzy thin mustache. He confined his friendships mostly to his fraternity, Theta Delta Chi, and had few girlfriends in college or afterward. "Michael recently decided women are an incredible time sink," Bansal told The Post in 1996.

Until recently, Saylor almost never drank. On the eve of his IPO, aboard a Gulfstream II, MicroStrategy Chief Financial Officer Mark Lynch offered Saylor a celebratory glass of Blue Ribbon Scotch from a $160 bottle. Saylor declined, put the glass aside, took a few sips of champagne and devoured two pink Hostess Sno Balls.

After a day of meetings in New York in January 2000, Saylor and Bisnow went to the bar of the Four Seasons hotel only to find a 45-minute wait for a seat. They turned to leave when Bisnow said, "Hey, Mike, you're rich, why don't we do what they do in the movies, hand the maitre d' a big tip and see what happens?" Bisnow handed the guy a $20 bill and the men were seated.

Around that time, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and his wife, Teresa Heinz, invited Saylor to a private dinner at their Georgetown home. Saylor was flattered that a U.S. senator would care to hear his grand ideas, and when Bisnow mentioned that Kerry might also care about his bank account, he seemed surprised. After the dinner, Saylor was asked by a Kerry aide to host a fundraiser, which he did, despite tending toward conservative views and being a lifelong admirer of George Will.

Saylor was always impressed by wealth, not so much for what the money could buy -- although that was enviable too -- but for the power, credibility and status that came with it. "When you're worth a certain amount, you get the attention of everyone in the room," Saylor said in 1998. In preparing for MicroStrategy's IPO that year, Saylor offered to sell "friends and family" stock -- coveted shares that are usually reserved for company insiders -- to a special class of people he dubbed "influencers." These were the top executives at about 200 nationally known firms, carefully selected by Bisnow. About 5 percent of these "influencers" accepted the shares, according to a source familiar with their apportionment.

As Saylor's celebrity and wealth grew, he gained entry into increasingly rarefied Washington circles. He attended several of President Bill Clinton's functions, often arranged by Democratic fundraisers such as Beth Dozoretz. At one reception for Clinton at the Georgetown home of financier Jonathan Silver, the president called on him during a question-and-answer session and Saylor launched into an extended talk about how technology made it possible for every American to carry a panic button, a kind of wireless 911 device. With the proper resources, Saylor said, the government could "significantly cut rape and violent crime." Clinton asked Saylor to send him a memo on the subject, but he never heard back from the White House.

The Wonder Boy of the Club

Most of Saylor's powerful new friends came from the burgeoning club of Northern Virginia entrepreneurs said to be transforming Greater Washington from a plodding government enclave into a hotbed of new money and industry. The members included, among others, Joe Robert and James Kimsey, financiers Mark Warner and Russ Ramsey, and entrepreneurs Mario Morino and Jonathan Ledecky. Saylor sought out their companionship and advice at black-tie functions and private dinners. He recruited Ledecky to join the MicroStrategy board and, later, John Sidgmore, the vice chairman of WorldCom. Saylor spoke of the importance of being a good member of the community and of surrounding himself with mentors.

In return, Saylor was embraced as the oddball wonder boy of the local technology sector. "He was sort of adopted as a pet, a curiosity," said one wealthy local entrepreneur, a friend of Saylor's. In late 1999, Saylor joined Robert, Kimsey and others on a Caribbean cruise on a 165-foot boat belonging to Hollywood super-agent Mike Ovitz. One afternoon, after drinking tequila shots the night before, Saylor went scuba diving and became sick, vomiting his lunch and inciting a feeding frenzy by a swarm of tropical fish. A few weeks later, Kimsey bought Saylor a bottle of fish food for his birthday.

In time, Saylor became weary and suspicious of several of the local multimillionaires who had become his friends. The more successful he became, people at MicroStrategy recall, the more Saylor would speak of how much smarter and more creative he was than the other younger entrepreneurs he was often grouped with. He began to tune out many of the "mentors" he had cultivated, confiding to at least two friends that AOL co-founder Steve Case was the only person in the Washington tech community whom he considered a peer. (Saylor says that this might have characarized his views at various points in the late 1990s, but that he has since become more humble and less judgmental)

As MicroStrategy's share price catapulted ever higher, Saylor became fixated by it, checking several times a day. He knew precisely where the stock had to go for him to be a billionaire, or 10-billionaire. Saylor looked to investors not just for money but for a kind of intellectual ratification. He believed in the stock market's "qualitative ability" to anoint visionaries. "In the marketplace, Nasdaq is the god," Saylor said.

On the days his stock fell, Saylor was more prone to piqueish fits of micro-management. One day in December 1999, Joe Payne, MicroStrategy's vice president of marketing, was flying out of Dulles International Airport on a family vacation when he received a call from Saylor on his cell phone. "You're causing corporate death," Saylor said acidly and asked why a press release announcing a new partnership agreement had not been issued. Payne explained that the new partner was not ready to announce the agreement.

"Well," Saylor said, "it's causing corporate death. The stock is down today. And the reason the stock is down today is because we haven't gotten that press release out."

When the stock rose, Saylor was not good at the practiced indifference that CEOs are supposed to evince, especially in front of their employees. Instead, he would casually walk around the office talking about how many paper millions he'd just made as he ate lunch.

There was an honest ebullience about him that was at once crass and refreshing. On MicroStrategy's annual staff cruise in January 2000, shares rose 19 percent in a single day, and all 1,600 employees were in the Cayman Islands! "We should go on cruises more often," joked Saylor, who made nearly a billion dollars that day, the dot-com fantasy in a nutshell.

Except that Saylor despised the notion that MicroStrategy was comparable to some dot-com-lately, like he was some newly minted MBA starring in an online toy store. This, he felt, ignored his company's 11-year track record, its profits, his huge vision. His was not an "Internet company," he said, it was an "intelligence company."

"In defense of those who were appealing to Michael's egomania, he was several cuts above the dot-commers," Bisnow said. "He had a very solid business software company. And he had these incredible gifts. He could have been someone very memorable, for reasons other than why he ultimately will be."

Seizing a Halo

MicroStrategy could have continued as just a "very solid business software company." But that would not have made Saylor memorable, much less historic. So it became clear to Saylor that for the recognition he felt he deserved, he had to be part of Wall Street's love affair with the Internet. "We were second-class citizens here," Saylor recalled of MicroStrategy's status as a mere "software" company. "And time was running out. We needed to get into that halo box."

This meant trumpeting how his company would thrive in the online world, how Internet and wireless networks could spread freshly mined information "everywhere." He launched a subsidiary, Strategy.com, that delivered information not to businesses but directly to consumers: weather updates, traffic reports, sports scores via phone, Internet or wireless tools.

Of course it was just a start in the context of the larger dream Saylor was peddling: One day soon, he promised, people would have devices in their ears that would tell them how to avoid clogged highways or incompetent heart surgeons or dangerous neighborhoods. Such intelligence would circulate "everywhere," cleansing waste, inefficiency and risk from our networked ecosystem. It sounded slightly nutty, but when Saylor was preaching, it could sound oddly imminent, too.

On Jan. 27, 2000, MicroStrategy announced that its revenue for 1999 would be $205.3 million, nearly double the previous year's. Saylor announced the company's 16th consecutive quarter of revenue growth and a profit of $3.8 million. The new numbers solidified his cachet as an Internet visionary who could actually make money. He was profiled on "60 Minutes," in Time and Newsweek (headline: "Caesar and Edison and . . . Saylor?"), and the framed press clippings he hung in his basement began to trail up the staircase and into the first floor of his house.

Shares of MicroStrategy jumped from $225 to $246 on March 7. The price continued upward as Saylor, Mark Lynch and Nick Weir, the head of Strategy.com, began their roadshow in Europe. Investors in London, Geneva and Paris begged to buy the increasingly pricey shares. The stock closed that Thursday, March 9, at $283.

On Friday, Saylor, Lynch and Weir flew back to Washington, with plans to begin the U.S. leg of the roadshow on Monday. On the people mover at Dulles, they checked messages and learned that shares of MicroStrategy had jumped another 30 points. The stock closed that day at $313 after hitting $333 in the early afternoon. Saylor had made another $1.3 billion while he crossed the Atlantic. He was now worth $13.6 billion.

"Do you ever get the feeling things are going just a little bit too well?" Saylor said to Weir as Saylor stepped into his waiting limousine.

"Yes," Weir said, "and it scares the hell out of me."

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

Next: Damage control.



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