Meet the $100 Million Industry Angel

P> When software giant Computer Associates purchased Legent Corp. for almost $2 billion, industry insiders thought the retired Mario Morino, Legent's founder, would kick up his heels and enjoy a lush, leisure life. But the $100 million man isn't a sit-around-the-house kind of guy.

Instead, Morino emerged to lead a pack of "industry angels" in the Washington, D.C., region -- high-tech philanthropists who give back to their communities. But Morino isn't just writing checks.

As chairman of the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project, he wants to build the area's reputation as a world center for innovation. He uses the Internet to bring together people and ideas, and creates an atmosphere that melds the consciousness of a non-profit group with the business sense of a traditional corporation.

At Legent, Morino was known as a CEO with a heart: Stories abound of his generosity, including tales of Morino sending employees' kids through college. WT spoke with Morino about what motivates a multimillionaire.

WT: Why did you start the KnowledgeWay Project?

MORINO: The entrepreneurial outlook of this region is changing. We have our first construct of the industry angels. [If] you go back 10 years, you could not measure the net worth of people like myself coming out of the industry. We're actually mapping this now. You take [Internet access providers] UUNET and PSINet, people like myself and Mark Warner [a local venture capitalist now running for the Virginia Senate], and you're getting some real net worth here. And these are people who want to make investments. You begin to get what Silicon Valley has always thrived on: This unstructured industry angel-based, future-woven network of investors.

WT: Why do you think the Washington area will nurture such work?

MORINO: We have an indigenous network culture. We were never a software culture, and I can say that because we were one of the largest software companies around.

This area has such a strong base of Internet knowledge -- that's become the magnet. No region in the world enjoys the sheer abundance of raw information resources that we do.

When you look at what a knowledge society someday might be, you have pockets of knowledge.

Look at the skill sets we have: telecommunications, classroom communications, publishing, software, information sciences. In every one, we're either No. 1 or in the top five in the world. We have these knowledge concentrations, and we must relate them to where the future sits.

WT: How do you convince those who aren't using the Internet that it's vital?

MORINO: Relevance is critical. We just finished doing a project for Marian Wright Edelman, [president of the Children's Defense Fund] in Charlotte. We ran a one-day [seminar] on the information superhighway and what it actually means for child advocacy and youth development. If you show people relevance, they jump.

We had people put together tours of youth services and nutritional services, adoption agencies. It was just amazing to see people come alive when they see this stuff.

A lot of what we did was get people to see a relevance to their life and then let them go their own course. That's probably the single theme through everything we touch. It's getting people to open their minds to something very new and very different.

WT: How important is it to get children on-line?

MORINO: The most important thing we can do today is ensure broad-based access to significant amounts of our population. I think it has tremendous social implications. But it has so many other implications.

We don't realize that access is not just access. It's not just a plug to something. It's actually access to a kid's opportunity in the future. The first time I told a child advocate I know about the Internet, he looked at me and said: 'You're crazy. I'm trying to keep kids out of jail and get them off drugs and teach kids to read, and you're talking to me about e-mail?' Once he understood that this was a tool to advance his cause of child advocacy, he wanted to learn.

WT: How is the Potomac KnowledgeWay working to meet some of the goals you've talked about?

MORINO: A lot of social architecture is being built. One of the things we recently announced is what we call the Networking program. When an organization becomes part of our campaign, they designate someone to be the networker. That person carries the torch in the company to make sure everyone gets on-line, to make sure there is relevance. Not just for the sake of getting connected, but to help a company locate ways to make them more effective and help them reinvent themselves.

We'd like to see 100 or 200 people in the project. You've got to occasionally bring them together for physical meetings, but they would all be electronically connected. We have a Web site called Crossroads. Everything we do is accessible.

WT: What do you want to achieve by networking all these people?

MORINO: We want to get them organized, then launch them, and just let them go. The concept of the chaos model is extremely important.

The core premise of the project was always that we would have the potential to create a new economic driver in the area.

It's not software as we've known it, it's not services as we've known it, but really a new concept of information products and services that are network-based.

There are so many new companies in this area. The problem is our institutional structure doesn't know how to reach them.

WT: Do you worry that people will stop talking in person if they use the Internet more?

MORINO: I think virtual communities are very important. The real essence of virtual community is to relate it to the physical community you live in. Back to the subject of balance.

I think it's so important to come up with things that close extremes. We'll be on the Internet, but I think it's so important that we meet.

If you can meet somebody, it's more effective. The trick is to make all these things blend together. You have to put all this in the context of how you live a life.

WT: Could you accomplish what you are doing without the Internet?

MORINO: No. This is an Internet model as much culturally as it is technically. The biggest omission people make in looking at the Internet is they don't study the social significance of it.

It's the most intriguing thing about the Internet -- to watch how things have changed around it. Higher education has seen the most change, then federal government, then business. It has transformed the political process.

In 1997, you'll see the transformation of the [World Wide] Web into another creature.

The movement has been the Internet, then the Web, then I think a set of tools that could be Java-based that would fundamentally change the way we publish.

The phenomenon is so pervasive. When you network your company, it changes what you do whether you want it to or not.

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