Guest column: Netscape escape caper

It was one of my toughest cases. And I've had some tough ones. I'm a dick. I've been one for a long time. Excuse me? No, no, no, come on. It's slang for "detective" or "private investigator." Look it up. I called this particular case the "Netscape Escape Caper." OK, so it's lame. I didn't say I was a clever dick, just an ordinary dick. Anyway, sometimes on cold rainy days like today I pour myself a steaming cup o' joe, take the case file out of its dusty jacket, and reminisce. It all began late one autumn afternoon . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 1998, 5:12pm Squinty, one of my best tipsters, heard on the street that something's going down at the Netscape office in Hong Kong. It's not clear what, but there's no doubt something's amiss.

5:18pm I phoned over to the Netscape Hong Kong office in Times Square. I got a recording which informed me that office hours are from 9:00am to 6:00pm, and that it's closed on weekends. I looked at my desk calendar. Wednesday. I looked at my watch. 10:08. I don't know why I looked at it, it's been broken for about a year and a half. I looked at the clock. 5:18. The red flag went up. Guess it's in a dick's blood.

6:11pm There was only one thing to do. Call Burson-Marsteller, the PR company that I knew had been working with Netscape on certain projects. Having the highest regard for PR professionals, I was confident they could shed some light on Netscape's mysterious absence. Unfortunately, in this case they were totally useless. They had no idea how to get in touch with anyone from Netscape. I was flabbergasted. PR professionals who were actually clueless. I couldn't imagine. It was as if the reality I had always known was suddenly torn from under me. I had had enough for one day. I had to go home and collect my thoughts.

Thursday, 9:37am After a fitful night's sleep, I was back on the case. I decided to phone over to the Netscape office again to see if anyone was there. I got the same mysterious recording. Office hours are from 9:00am to 6:00pm Why were they keeping the after-hours recording on? It was time to take a more drastic step.

9:55am I needed to send someone over to the Netscape office to do a little reconnaissance work. Was the office closed? Were there any signs of life at all? The only way to know would be to go there and check it out first-hand. I entrusted that task to Alicia, my girl Friday. She's a good dame, but a little ditsy. "Oooooo," she cooed as she began to primp. "Times Square -- I can do some shopping while I'm there." I just rolled my eyes.

10:41am Alicia phoned me on her mobile. She was standing in front of the locked doors of the Netscape office. No signs of life, she said. The office was still intact, but it was completely deserted. A lonely newspaper lay on the floor outside the office. The silence was deafening. It was clearly troubling for her. Nothing that a side trip to City Super couldn't cure.

11:29am Alicia returned. She found the green curry paste she had been searching everywhere for. At least something was being accomplished here.

11:55am Time to call in the big guns. I sent an e-mail to Quentin Gallivan, Netscape's Asia-Pacific vice president and general manager, who somehow manages to manage the Asia-Pacific region from Netscape's corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California. I asked him to fill me in on what's going on out here. Assuming he knows. He should. After all, he was the one who came out here in August of 1996 to open the Hong Kong office and set up the North Asia operation in the first place. We'll see.

12:06pm I phoned over to one of my contacts at JOS Technology Group, Netscape's distributor in Hong Kong, to see if he knew anything. He didn't. He was out of the distribution loop, he said, but he assured me that he would find out who was clued in and have that person call me. I was beginning to notice a pattern of cluelessness.

2:23pm I was still in the dark, and beginning to run out of options. I phoned down to Netscape Singapore to try to reach Kriss Channe, Netscape's Asia South marketing director. Yes, that's really the way he spells his name. Anyway, I got his voice mail, so I left a message and asked him to call me back as soon as possible. This isn't his territory, but he should at least know what happened to the Netscape office here.

5:31pm Kriss Channe (that spelling just kills me) returned my call. I told him about the mysterious absence of the Netscape folks here and asked him if he could help me. "Who have you been trying to call in Hong Kong?" he asked. Any human being who would pick up the phone, I responded. I told him about the recording and the fact that we went over to the office and found it was closed. "When did you go?" he asked. That morning during business hours, I responded. "OK, I'm going to point you to the person who can let you know what's happening. I'm actually responsible for a different part of the region ... so I'm surprised that you were able to find my number, actually," he said. Surprised and probably pissed, I thought. I'm a dick. It's what I do. "Let me speak to the guys who can comment on this. And your number will be the same number for the next 24 hours?" he asked. I assured him it would be. I asked him who would be calling me. "I need to find out. I don't know why there's no response," he said. And a final assurance: "OK, we'll help you. I'll try to get somebody to respond to you in the next 24 hours," he said. I looked at my watch. That meant I'd hear back from someone by 10:08 tomorrow. Doh! I mean, by 5:31 tomorrow. Hmmmm... was Kriss Channe being evasive or was he really that incomprehensibly far out of the loop? Time to call it a day. I was getting nowhere.

Friday, 9:45am Day Three was off to a bad start. I checked my e-mail -- no response from Quentin Gallivan. Phoned over to the Netscape Hong Kong office again -- same after-hours recording. I managed to dig up the direct numbers for North Asia General Manager Savio Chow and Account Manager Jeff Chan, and got nothing but voice mail for both. I left both of them urgent messages to call me. Fired off e-mails to three different Netscape PR specialists at the Mountain View headquarters. Maybe they could help. I was getting desperate.

2:27pm OK, we're finally getting somewhere. My contact at JOS Technology called back and said JOS had received an e-mail from Albert Fung, Netscape's Asia-Pacific director of strategic sales based in Mountain View, who said that anybody with questions about what was happening with Netscape Hong Kong had to get in direct touch with Mountain View. My JOS contact suggested I talk to Gladys Leung, manager of JOS Distribution, to try to find out more.

5:07pm Pay dirt. I reached Gladys Leung, who confirmed that the e-mail from Albert Fung directed JOS to work with the Asia-Pacific headquarters in Mountain View instead of the Hong Kong rep office, in light of what Gladys referred to as the "transition". Looks like the writing's on the wall.

5:45pm Kriss Channe's 24 hours have passed, and still nothing from anyone at Netscape. So I phoned him again and got his voice mail. It appears that Netscape has opted to go into hiding. Forget it. Case closed. Let the press worry about it. I'm just a dick.

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