10 to Watch: Tom Bevilacqua

What sort of exchanges take place when E-Trade's lead dealmaker sits down with the chief external counsel for Cisco Systems? Ask Tom Bevilacqua. It happens every night at his dinner table.

Bevilacqua is the chief corporate development and strategic investment adviser for E-Trade; his wife, Therese Mrozek, a partner at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, is lead outside counsel for Cisco. When the two aren't caught up in the affairs of Silicon Valley, they're home with their three kids in Woodside, Calif.

Though not officially added to the E-Trade payroll until last year, Bevilacqua has worked for the firm since 1996. A former partner at Brobeck himself, Bevilacqua assumed the position of outside counsel for E-Trade when CEO Christos Cotsakos joined the company.

Bevilacqua says his first assignment was getting E-Trade "scrubbed up and ready to go public." He continued to work closely with Cotsakos as online stock trading exploded over the next two years. He finally relented to Cotsakos' entreaties to join the firm last March and was named executive VP of corporate development and general counsel.

By the end of 1999, Bevilacqua had handed off his legal duties to a new general counsel to focus on managing two areas: E-Trade's mergers and acquisitions strategy and its strategic investments.

It's a big job. Between E-Trade's small acquisitions (including online calendar company Abrio and financial community site ClearStation) and its large ones (such as the pending $1.1 billion acquisition of online bank Telebank), the company is an M&A heavyweight in the financial-services arena. E-Trade acquired four companies in 1999, in transactions valued at an estimated $2 billion - most of it in stock. Other acquisition targets include companies offering insurance, fixed-income products, active trader services and personal information-management tools.

E-Trade is now also becoming known as a venture fund. When it hired Bevilacqua, the firm announced it had raised $150 million to invest in e-commerce startups.

Bevilacqua looks at about 25 business plans a week and says so far he's put at least half of that cash into eight companies. He plans to close on another, larger fund in the first half of this year.

For someone who wields so much power, Bevilacqua is remarkably even-keeled. His eyes light up when he talks about his new career. Asked if he misses law, he answers with an emphatic no. "I sometimes miss the collegiality of a firm partnership," he adds, weighing his words carefully. "But at E-Trade there's really a sense that this is a team. It's not at all run in a hierarchical way."

Cotsakos has a clear vision for E-Trade; it's Bevilacqua who's chiefly responsible for making it a reality. If he does his job and the market stays on track, E-Trade will evolve into a one-stop financial-services shop and digital financial-media company, delivering market news and services across a broad spectrum.

Bevilacqua appears up to the task. "I go into 2000 extraordinarily optimistic," he says. "With the level of innovation today and the speed of change, I think this market spells opportunity."

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