Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne Posts on Internet During Conference Call

I've marveled in the past (see this post and others) about Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne's self-destructive Internet addiction -- how he has dragged his wretched company through the mud via skeevy, sometimes foul-mouthed posts in which he rarely identifies himself as CEO (shades of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey).

I only found out today how really bad off he is,Internet-addiction-wise.

I was dozing through the Overstock.com quarterly conference call this morning, numbed by the always-dubious financial gobbledygook and Sith Lord Chewbacca. After all, there's really no way of distinguishing facts from exaggerations and hocus-pocus until afterwards, when his version of reality is dissected by accounting-fraud-watchers like Sam Antar and Tracy Coenen.

So I wandered over to the Investor Village message board. I saw this:

Note the time: 11:43 a.m., eastern time. The conference call, which began at 11 a.m., was still underway when he posted that "attaboy" response to loyal corporate shill Evren Karpak. It didn't end until 12:15.

Yep, like me, Byrne was obviously bored to tears listening to tiresome stuff like whether or not his cruddy company is ever going to make a buck, so he went over to the Overstock message board at Investor Village. Just as I did, except that he's the CEO of the company, supposedly focusing on the questions being directed at him.

"Hannibal" is his anonymous user ID. Since he did not sign the post, as usual, most people looking at that post would have no idea that the CEO of the company was posting on the Internet during the company's quarterly conference call. Which is why Byrne's defiance of Regulation FD is not a very good idea.

Ironically, in that same conference call Byrne whined about all the criticism of his Internet posts, and claimed again, falsely as usual, that he doesn't post online under pseudonyms, a la Mackey. This right in the middle of proving that what he was saying was a flat-out lie.

Amazing? Not by Patrick Byrne standards. Over the weekend he made a fool of himself on the Slashdot website, weighing in on a discussion about whether Wikipedia (with which Overstock is competing via "Omuse") is "infiltrated by foreign agents."

I'm not making this up. Read his contribution to the loony discussion here. His director of communications and in-house stalker, the nauseating Judd Bagley, was doing the same thing -- via pseudonyms "WordBomb" and "writerjudd" -- on Slashdot and the Wikipedia Review anti-Wikipedia site. On neither site did Bagley identify himself as an official of Overstock.com.

One might think it odd -- and legally questionable -- that two officials of a company seeking to compete with Wikipedia, through their laughable "Omuse" wiki, would try to undermine Wikipedia. The media, however, has become a bit numbed to Byrne's disgraceful conduct and has largley given him a pass. Regulators, though investigating Byrne and Overstock.com, have so far taken no action.

I wonder if this head-in-the-sand attitude is justified for a company that makes a mockery of corporate ethics.

UPDATE: Tracy Coenen translates the conference call from Byrne-speak into English.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
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