These days, Mark Goldston is probably best known as the king of dial-up Internet.
But don’t pigeonhole Goldston as a tech guy.
The 54-year-old chief executive of Woodland Hills Internet company United Online Inc. is also an accomplished author, runs the world’s largest flower business and – believe it or not – is the co-creator of inflatable-pump sneakers.
Goldston credits his success largely to his knack for recognizing good ideas, but those that have worked with him say there is more to it.
Robert Chandler, chief executive and founder of advertising agency General Levitation, said Goldston has a keen understanding of both the nitty-gritty of running a business and how to appeal to consumers.
“He’s a great numbers guy, but he’s also got a good vision for promotion and marketing,” said Chandler, who has worked on United Online’s ad campaigns for the past decade. “Usually numerates aren’t good marketers, but he seems to have instincts on both sides.”
Those instincts have been put to the test since Goldston took over NetZero, the precursor to United Online, in 1999. The company, which provided free dial-up Internet access, was a small player in an industry dominated by America Online.
At the time, NetZero had just two dozen employees and “basically no revenue,” Goldston recalled. In 2001, he bought one of NetZero’s main competitors, Juno, in a deal the business press derided as an effort to take two skunks and breed a mink, but which turned out to be a winner.
Then, a few years ago, with dial-up losing more and more ground to broadband, Goldston decided time was ripe to diversify “in a major way.” The company acquired Classmates Online, which is credited as the first online social network. Spotting an opportunity to “cross-pollinate” with Classmates’ 40 million members, the company acquired floral company FTD Group Inc. in an $800 million deal in late 2008.
“We thought the ability for us to use our branding skills to help reposition and polish the image of this great American iconic brand (were) significant,” Goldston said.
Now, half of the company’s nearly $700 million in annual revenue comes from its FTD segment. Classmates, meanwhile, constitutes about 28 percent, while the original dial-up Internet segment is now less than one-quarter.
The company has not only improved its bottom line, but it has also grown its ranks to more than 2,000. Goldston said one of the keys to managing a large work force has been to make integrity and respect a fundamental part of his leadership style.
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