Facebook Twitter



Jim Clark's old friends in Salt Lake City are proud of the success of his new company, Netscape - but they're not nearly as stunned as many fiscal analysts are. Knowing his drive, they expected amazing things of Clark.

In fact, Clark sounds more startled than they.Clark is a founder of Netscape Communications, a company based in Mountain View, Calif. Netscape Navigator, the firm's communications program, is an interface that allows cruisers of the Internet's World Wide Web to quickly download still pictures, text, sounds, films and graphics.

On Wednesday, Netscape stock was offered publicly for the first time. It shot up from $28 a share to $75 before leveling off at $58. On Friday morning it was trading at around $50. It was the most impressive launching of any software stock, making Clark the first Internet tycoon.

By Friday, his personal stake in Netscape was estimated at around $500 million.

Clark studied computers at the University of Utah, learning from one of the industry's great pioneers, David C. Evans; the older man was on Clark's Ph.D. committee in 1974.

While attending the U., Clark lived in married student housing, University Village, where he threw famous parties, his huge stereo speakers providing impressive amplification.

After he earned his Ph.D., he taught at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Within a few years he founded Silicon Graphics, also based in Mountain View, Calif. About 18 months ago he left Silicon Graphics and, together with the young programmer Marc Andreessen, founded Netscape.

Interviewed by telephone Thursday at Netscape, Clark could not comment on the stock offering. Under federal rules, the company is in a "quiet period" for the next three weeks. But he talked happily about the old days in Utah.

"Oh man, the University of Utah was an absolute - a quantum change in my life," Clark said. Here he was exposed to a flux of ideas, intellectual friends and Utah's magnificent natural landscape.

"Those were just dramatically mind-altering things," he said. "They just sort of opened up whole new vistas."

Clark fondly recalled Evans and another teacher, Ivan Sutherland. Whenever he returned to Utah, he called Evans and "no matter what he was doing he would make two or three hours available, and go and talk about what the world was doing.

"He was a real mentor," Clark said.

Tom Tessman, a sculptor who was one of Clark's closest friends in the early 1970s, remembers, "He was driven in those days and very excited about ideas."

Clark was an intelligent conservationist, he said.

"He had decided early on" that he was going to be a financial success, "and he was smart about how he did it. And he also did it through work. It wasn't manipulating other people's money or anything; it was purely work."

When Clark was struggling to start Silicon Graphics, sometimes he'd appear at Tessman's door during a quick trip to Salt Lake City, then spend the night sleeping on his friend's floor.

Many years ago, Tessman gave him a birthday present, "a record with someone playing a Bach bourree on guitar," he recalled. Clark was so impressed with the music that he bought a guitar and soon learned to play it.

Conrad Bert, an artist and draftsman, recalls trips to southern Utah with Clark in the early 1970s. "Mostly I camped in the desert with him, and he did have me up to see his research work (at the U.) a couple of times." He was surprised with Clark's first victories with Silicon Graphics, but he's not surprised anymore, "now that he's in the ball game."

Another old pal, importer Richard Stamm, recalls, "Jim always seemed like a driven type of person. He had an energy that was a bit uncommon."

He was congenial, laughing a lot, "although there was something very driven and self-disciplined about him too."

When Clark was finishing his degree at the U., he showed Stamm, Bert and other friends a 3-D computer simulator he was developing. It was a forerunner - by 20 years - of today's virtual reality goggles.

Stamm put on the headgear and saw geometrical shapes created by Clark's computer; he could manipulate the designs. "I very vividly remember walking through this mathematical shape called a Cline bottle. It was very weird.

"I knew then and there that Jim was onto something."