Richard W. Vague, former chairman and chief executive officer at Bank One Corp.'s First USA credit card division, has been quietly assembling a team of his former staff members to operate his new start-up venture, an Internet company called Dryrock Corp.
According to sources familiar with Dryrock's business plan - which is still in its formative stage - Mr. Vague plans for the company to focus on business-to-business payments over the Internet.
Even before finalizing a strategy, Dryrock, located in Wilmington, Del., near First USA's headquarters, has had an impact on Mr. Vague's former employer. Industry sources say that more than 25 Bank One employees have moved to Dryrock, in a talent drain that has Bank One mulling legal action against the company. Bank One was not available for comment.
Perhaps the most significant of the hires was that of James Stewart, a former executive vice president at First USA who was later chief executive officer and president of WingspanBank.com, Bank One's on-line bank. Mr. Stewart left Bank One in December to work with Mr. Vague.
Other First USA executives who now work for Dryrock include Ben Brake, former executive vice president in charge of nonpartnership marketing at First USA; Joseph Venuti, former senior vice president of partnership marketing with financial institutions; and Clint Walker, First USA's former legal counsel.
A Dryrock receptionist said all of these recent hires were out of the office Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
Another executive, Gary Marino, who was First USA's head of marketing, submitted his resignation this week. Mr. Marino could not be reached, and no further details were released.
Mr. Vague left Bank One last October after problems were reported in its credit card subsidiary. Bank One has since warned investors three times that its earnings would be lower than expected. It has also laid out a plan to stem attrition, raised pricing on its credit card products, and trimmed its marketing budget.
Mr. Vague's new company is being backed by Benchmark Capital in Menlo Park, Calif. Sources said Dryrock has received $25 million in venture funding, an arrangement Benchmark declined to confirm. Benchmark has backed several high-profile Web companies, including the on-line auction site eBay Inc. and the e-commerce company Ariba Inc.
Mr. Vague's plans have been a source of much speculation since his departure from First USA. Industry sources said Mr. Vague has considered trying to buy WingspanBank.com, and that he would like to combine an on-line bank with a limited brick-and-mortar presence.
However, others close to First USA said Mr. Vague has now shifted toward business to business.
Dryrock is "a b-to-b payments approach," the source said. "Originally he was starting out as a cross between Wingspan and x.com, and then they realized the marketplace is more b-to-b focused."
Much mystery still surrounds Dryrock and its final strategy. Its Web site lists the company name and a toll-free number, but otherwise is still under construction. One company employee said Dryrock's product is "still being determined."
Mr. Vague did not answer numerous phone calls for this article.