Take The Money and Run

 You know that guide menu you get when you are changing channels when watching satellite or cable TV?  The man with the patent for that technology made a lot of money as you can guess.  Henry Yuen is a brilliant man with several PHDs, and built the company Gemstar from nothing into a several billion dollar company in a few years. 

Henry Yuen Business Week Cover Archived

The company went from some 15 employees to several hundred employees when it acquired TV Guide.  Macrovision acquired Gemstar in December 2007 for $2.8 billion.

 And Now, as Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of The Story.  .  .   A close associate of mine knew Henry quite well.  He worked for Henry as a consultant for several years.  The story goes that this fellow was offered a high level position by Henry at Gemstar – all the benefits, salary, stock options, and even “golden parachute” were worked out.  But there was one last i to be dotted.  This fellow needed to be able to hire and fire people.  Henry assured him he had that authority, but would not sign such authority into the employment contract.  So this fellow heeded sound legal advice that had been offered him years before – if a verbal promise is made, but the promisor will not sign it into a legal document, something is wrong.  The fellow refused to take the position.
   For several years the company stock went through the roof, and this fellow was kicking himself for not being on the bandwagon.    The company was valued at $20 billion in early 2000.
 But Some would say that dear Henry was a rather slippery fellow.  Litigation erupted between Henry and News Corp (Rupert Murdoch), who owned 41% of Gemstar by this time.  It seems Henry had been known as a “patent terrorist” for his willingness to sue potential partners to protect his patents.  Henry was finally ousted from Gemstar by Murdoch.  News Corporation’s involvement with Mr. Yuen resulted in 2002 in a $6 billion write-down.  Henry Yuen was also found guilty of accounting fraud in a civil suit brought by the SEC.  Now Henry has been charged by the Justice Department with obstruction of justice.  But it seems that Henry is out of the country, with over $150 million of his cash having been moved to offshore accounts, and it doesn’t look like he intends to pay the $22.3 million judgement against him in the SEC civil suit.


A memorable time, with thoughts of Arthur C. Clarke

 Satellite 2008 was the first trade show I visited following the launching of my consulting business.  It was great renewing old contacts and making new ones.  One memory I will carry is one of the best dinners I ever enjoyed.  It may seem a little silly to call it dinner since I only had a bowl of soup.  But I was there for dinner with some great company, and the experience is what I will remember.  Scott Chase, the chairman of Satellite 2008, had wonderful stories to tell about his relationship with Arthur C. Clark, and an experience he had with Walter Cronkite. 

Walter Cronkite with Scott Chase

 Scott had been invited to dinner with us by Monica Morgan, Vice President of Corporate Communications of SES Americom; Monica and I have been good friends for many years.  Also joining us was Steve Corda, Vice President of Service Development at SES Americom, whom I’ve also known for years, and with whom I worked closely on a major project at SES Americom in 2006 – 2007.  Monica and Steve had their own entertaining stories to tell, and it was an evening to remember.
 Less than a month later, this experience was brought into even greater focus when I learned of the death of Arthur C. Clarke on March 19, 2008.  It is hard to imagine that anyone in the satellite industry might not know that Arthur C. Clarke has been regarded by most as the father of satellite communications.  His paper “Extra-Terrestrial Relays” in 1945 outllined much of the science that underlies the mechanicas of orbiting communications satellites.  The geosynchronous orbit is also known as the Clarke belt.  

Arthur C. Clarke with Scott Chase

 Scott Chase authored a nice “In Memoriam” article, “Sir Arthur Charles Clarke: 1917 – 2008 – Personal Memories of a Great Man” which was published in the May 2, 2008 issue of Via Satellite.  I think it should be required reading for the satellite professional – Arthur C. Clarke was so instrumental in projecting the concept of satellite commuinications one might imagine we wouldn’t be where we are today without him.


Starting a Satellite Consulting Business

Owning your own business is a dream that is shared by millions, and I’ve not been exempt.  So, here we are – after over 36 years working for a great satellite communications company (SES Americom) I find myself separated from the company and starting my own consulting business.  There are no regrets, just memories of a great run and huge satisfaction from the projects I’ve been involved in (and a little trepidation about the new adventure I’ve undertaken).
The most recent major project I worked on is also one of the largest I was ever involved with, and provides the greatest satsifaction.  I was a primary engineer working on the IP Prime project for SES Americom from May of 2005 through December of 2007.  We engineered and built a super head end at an SES teleport in New Jersey which downlinked video channels from satellites, re-encoded the channels in MPEG-4 over IP, and re-transmitted the channels to an SES satellite dedicated to IP Prime.  Before I left, we had built the system up to a capacity of over 300 Standard Definition video channels and 40 High Definition video channels.  SES Americom launched a subsidiary group named IP Prime based on the system we built during this project, to deliver video over IP to multiple customers by satellite, who in turn could offer it to their subscribers over their IP delivery networks.  Sadly the market never materialized quickly enough and SES shelved the project.
The transition to working for yourself after such a long, successful run working for a large company is dramatic, and can be traumatic.  But from the beginning I’ve looked at it as a great opportunity.  I suppose the most daunting task facing me is the cold calling I need to do to reach contacts with the decision making authority to hire a consultant in satellite communications (I never really pictured myself as a salesman).  Other things, like building my web site www.wbmsat.com and extending my network of contacts using tools like LinkedIn come more naturally to me as a result of my experience.  Now I’ll try a little blogging.  Here I go – with a wing and a prayer!

Bill McDonald