Hans G. Hawrysz, who played a key role in AT&T Corp.'s smart card and electronic commerce activities, has left to take the helm of an emerging Internet information company.

Mr. Hawrysz, 48, was named president and chief executive officer of Planet Direct Inc., effective Thursday.

He said Planet Direct aims to "make the Internet a powerful part of mainstream life" by delivering customized and localized information services to personal-computer owners by way of their Internet service providers.

As executive vice president of AT&T Universal Card Services, Mr. Hawrysz was instrumental in its decision to buy into the Mondex smart card initiative. Through a subsidiary, the Jacksonville, Fla., credit card company was one of Mondex's global founding members and owns 10% of Mondex USA.

One of the AT&T unit's first employees in 1990, Mr. Hawrysz helped see it through a period of rapid initial growth to its current 15 million cardholders. He worked under two chief executive officers - Paul Kahn and David Hunt.

Mr. Hawrysz (pronounced Havrish) is leaving AT&T just as former Citicorp executive Richard J. Srednicki moves in to succeed Mr. Hunt, who recently joined Global Payment Systems in Atlanta.

In an interview, Mr. Hawrysz said he was optimistic about AT&T Universal Card and its prospects relating to both its parent company and Mondex.

"Traditionally, the thinking was always about voice communication, or minutes on the network," he said. "Now it's about transactions on the network, and payments are a major source of those transactions. Mondex, and chip cards generally, can be very powerful as access keys to the network."

He said he was excited by the Planet Direct opportunity because it taps into the "profound change (of the Internet) from an exciting toy to a critical tool in the lives of everyday people."

The company, which expects to emerge quickly from "beta testing" to a full-scale product offering, assembles personalized packages of news, weather, entertainment reviews, on-line Yellow Pages, chat groups, and the like that would be delivered free to the consumer and financed by advertising.

Planet Direct, based in Wilmington, Mass., has about 40 employees and is owned by CMG Information Services, which has also launched InfoMation, a personalized Internet-based newspaper, and the marketing ventures AdSmart and Direct Interactive. Through an affiliate, CMG owns a majority of the Web search company Lycos Inc. An earlier CMG startup, NetCarta, was sold to Microsoft Corp.

CMG president David Wetherell said the search for Planet Direct's CEO was "challenging, and we are confident that under Hans, Planet Direct will become an Internet leader."

Mr. Hawrysz said his transferable strengths include consumer marketing, product development, and a track record with start-ups that includes the AT&T Universal experience. Before AT&T, he worked at Merrill Lynch, Dean Witter Reynolds, and American Express.

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