Last May, when I was considering giving up my career as a software consultant, Divine Interventures called, repeatedly, trying to convince me to work for them. The recruiter spoke of IPO options, retirement at an early age, and the glory of helping to wage Chicago’s Internet revolution.
If you’ve heard of any local dot-com, it’s probably Divine Interventures, though it’s not a dot-com per se. It’s an incubator, providing venture money and other services to fledgling e-businesses in exchange for their stock. Divine calls itself an “Internet zaibatsu,” a term taken from the industrial combines of prewar Japan that apparently means “money burning like lit farts.” Investors and journalists once fawned over Divine; today, Morningstar calls its stock “no bargain,” even at the current price of $2 a share, down from a high of just over $12 in July.
In 1999 the company’s founder and “vision master,” Andrew “Flip” Filipowski, had big plans. He started raising a pot that would eventually total $450 million. He arranged a $14 million tax break from the city to help build a planned $62.9 million headquarters at Goose Island. He named an unwieldy 44 people to his board, including Michael Jordan and Jeffrey Jacobs, Oprah Winfrey’s business partner. “What’s stymied the midwest is that it’s gotten lazy,” he told the financial Web site Redherring.com. “What it needs is a good kick in the ass.”
This year Divine was on the other end of that ass kicking. Last quarter the company had a net loss of $93.2 million on $13.7 million in sales. They’re cutting costs by firing people. Several of Divine’s companies have gone toes up, and there are no stellar performers in the remaining lineup.
But last spring Divine was still the city’s great dot-com hope. When the recruiter called, I agreed to be interviewed. Then a woman from human resources phoned to tell me when my appointment would be.
“Um, sorry,” I replied. “I’ll be picking up my kids from school then.”
“Well, that’s the time we have to interview you,” she said after a long pause. Her voice was flat and cold. I hung up, thought for a minute, and wrote to Divine, telling them I was no longer interested, thanks.