December 3, 1998 4:00 AM PST

Andreessen might go to Virginia

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SAN FRANCISCO--Executives at America Online and Netscape are paying close attention to meshing their corporate cultures, according to Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen, who revealed he's not committed to remaining in Silicon Valley after the merger closes next spring.

In an interview with CNET News.com, Andreessen said he considers the Washington, D.C., area, where America Online is headquartered, to have the potential to become another Silicon Valley, citing the concentration of telecommunications firms in that region.

"I've spent a lot of time there with our customers," said the Netscape technical whiz, who owns a house in Palo Alto, California, and had planned to go on sabbatical until the AOL acquisition came about last week.

Andreessen also said that AOL chairman Steve Case's trip to Silicon Valley this week to talk to about AOL's strategy and vision was "a very big deal." Case apparently convinced Netscape skeptics that AOL is committed to retaining the Netscape brand, a key concern among employees because frequently Silicon Valley mergers kill the acquired brand.

"It's been a pretty incredible eight or ten days," Andreessen told a Business Week executive conference, giving what he termed "a report from the front lines." Asked several times about his role in AOL after the merger, Andreessen quipped, "I already dodged that question once today."

Speaking to the conference, Andreessen acknowledged the challenge of marrying AOL's East Coast, marketing-oriented culture with Netscape's technology-driven Silicon Valley roots. The latter's experience has been that the most important element in retaining employees is not compensation or stock options, he noted, but the workplace environment.

"A lot of our people come from other start-up companies--it's a sink or swim environment where decisions are made on a decentralized basis," said Andreessen. "It's a place where lots of smart, independent people are succeeding, with lots of latitude in terms of what people are doing."

"The ultimate complement is that headhunters are bombarding our people with phone calls every day," he said.

Naming a major concern of some Netscape employees, he said workers will still be able to keep their dogs in their work cubicles. "This is a big deal," he said to laughter from the audience.

Other concerns that emerged from Monday's all-hands employee meeting with AOL brass, Netscape execs, and Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy: The fate of six weeks of sabbatical leave after four years of employment (it stays) and retention bonuses (they exist).

"Between the dogs, the sabbaticals, and the retention bonuses, the thing that got the biggest cheer, because people were in such a good mood, was when someone asked if they got free tickets to the movie You've Got Mail," he said, referring to the new film built around AOL's email notification message.

Andreessen hopes AOL's marketing prowess can be infused into Netscape's culture, which he expects to be altered by the merger.

"I don't think it needs to change but it's hard to believe it won't," he said. "Technology without marketing is not very interesting--there are lots of examples of great technology and poor marketing. Programmers don't have an affinity for marketing, but they love it when their products are popular. They really respect the results [marketers] are able to achieve."

 

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