In the scant days since Harvey Golub retired as chief executive officer of American Express Co., he has gained two new jobs one of which will have him working closely with a former Amex deputy and taken a sharp turn away from the cards business.
Mr. Golub, who turned over the managerial reins of American Express to Kenneth I. Chenault on Dec. 31 but who will remain chairman through March, on Wednesday became a senior adviser at the Lazard investment banking firm.
A day earlier AirClic Inc., a private company in Blue Bell, Pa., that markets a wireless shopping technology, announced that he had become chairman of the board and that Phillip J. Riese, the former president of American Express consumer card services group, had been named CEO.
We are not planning to issue credit cards, Mr. Riese said in a conference call announcing the appointments.
Mr. Golub said he was approached in September by a recruiter about the AirClic job and its efforts to facilitate online shopping through cell phones and other wireless devices.
After the first five minutes of discussion, we started to talk about applications, and I knew that I would join the board, and when I stepped down from American Express I would become their chairman, Mr. Golub said.
With that decided, Mr. Golub said he asked Mr. Riese to become the CEO. I knew Phil and had worked with him for a long time. In every meeting weve had, I have learned something.
Mr. Golub had announced in April 1999 that he would retire from American Express in April 2001. Two months ago he said that a smoother-than-expected transition had allowed him to move the retirement date forward to the end of 2000.
An American Express spokesman said that more board appointments for Mr. Golub will be announced in the next few weeks. The spokesman declined to name the companies.
Neither Mr. Golub nor the companies he has joined could give much detail about what his responsibilities will be. At Lazard, according to a company press release, he will concentrate his efforts on the investment banking division but will also be available to consult with other business areas within Lazard, including private investment, capital markets, and principal investment.
Andy Brimmer, a Lazard spokesman, said that American Express touches everything, so he has lots of experience in different businesses.
After leaving American Express, Mr. Riese became CEO of Optimark Technologies Inc., a Jersey City company that helps build electronic marketplaces.
At AirClic, Mr. Golub and Mr. Riese will supervise a company whose system would allow people to use personal digital assistants and mobile phones to read information on products, print catalogues, and advertisements, then use the information to order merchandise.
The company is marketing a system that lets people use AirClic-issued scanners to read Universal Product Code bar codes from a product, a Web site, or a print circular.
Customers would need a scanner and a wireless device to use this system, but no U.S. marketers currently offer products that use AirClic.
Mr. Riese said that once the system is in place, If you are in a restaurant and taste a bottle of wine you like, you can scan that bottle, and it will take you to Wine.com, and you can buy that wine using a device such as a Palm or a cell phone.
He said AirClics situation reminds him of the early days of credit cards. It is a chicken-and-egg problem. If you have lots of people with AirClic on mobile devices, you will have lots of people building applications for them.
The way to get AirClic devices into the hands of potential users is to get companies to distribute them to clients and employees, he said.
Our initial focus is on businesses where a single application will change the lives of their customers or employees, Mr. Riese said. That could get three million salespeople carrying our devices. Then I could go to L.L. Bean or Williams-Sonoma and say, Look, all those devices out there make it really easy to make people buy from their catalogues. Then I could get other people to go out and buy devices for themselves.
Eventually, AirClic devices will be as ubiquitous as cell phones, he said. There is a company we are working with in the grocery supply business. I want to give those customers a device so customers can walk around their apartment and click on shampoo, soap, on everything in the pantry. Everything has a bar code on it.
The cell phone or digital device would then transmit the list of items to the grocery supplier for delivery, and the convenience of such a system would make consumers enthusiastic to use it, Mr. Riese said.
The vast majority of cell phones are Web-enabled, he said. When you are using one of these, you wont think of the Internet.
AirClic plans to establish its own form of bar codes, called scanlets, that companies will be able to buy to place on their products or in catalogues or other advertising, Mr. Riese said.
The codes would be smaller than UPC bar codes and would contain Internet address instructions. Consumers who point their Internet and scanner-enabled cell phones at the code would be transported instantly to the Web site designated for that code.
AirClic also plans to use the already-ubiquitous UPC codes found on most packaged goods. The company would charge a click-through fee, much as Internet advertising agencies do for surfers who click on a banner ad. AirClic will also charge a commission for purchases made online through its service.
Mr. Riese said that AirClic does not plan to offer payment services, but will partner with payment service providers. We will invite participation from all of the electronic wallets and alternative payment systems out there.
The company will begin announcing applications and partnerships in the second quarter, he said. We want to give users a choice in how they pay. This is an open system. Regardless of our affiliation, we will be totally agnostic about the payment vehicle.
AirClic has received $290 million of venture funding from such investors as Motorola Inc., Ericsson Business Innovation AB, Symbol Technologies Inc., and a private investor group led by Goldman Sachs & Co. The company will not need further venture cash, Mr. Riese said.
We have all the cash we need for our business model, he said. Our business plan is to bring in additional strategic partners in device manufacturing wireless carriers and media companies.