Spreading the word about his mission


Joseph Galli Jr. is on a mission: to make VerticalNet Inc., the company he now heads, as much a household name as Amazon.com Inc., the company he left.

If he can do that, the former executive of Towson-based Black & Decker Corp. might realize another goal, helping put the East Coast on the map for technology.

Galli tried to spread the word about VerticalNet and e-commerce lessons learned at Amazon while speaking yesterday to about 200 Baltimore brokers, consultants, bankers, accountants and Internet business people at Maryvale Preparatory School. The private girls school in Brooklandville put on its first annual e-business breakfast to benefit its technology program.

Galli decided in June 1999 to leave what he described as a slow-moving, Old Economy company - where over 19 years he'd risen from sales representative to president of Black & Decker Worldwide. At the toolmaker, Galli is credited with developing and launching DeWalt power tools and making the line a leading brand name.

When he took the No. 2 spot at Amazon, becoming its president and chief operating officer, he made headlines.

"I wanted to put myself in a radically different environment and get ready for the new millennium," he told the group. "I was terrified of the thought of being obsolete as an executive."

Galli, 42, made headlines again when he left Amazon - just 13 months later - to become president and chief executive officer of Horsham, Pa.-based VerticalNet, a powerhouse in the fast-emerging sector of business-to-business online commerce. The executive, known as a passionate marketer with the ability to motivate his employees, said he left Amazon to return to his four children on the East Coast and fulfill a lifelong dream of heading a company.

Now, Galli is taking his message about VerticalNet and the future of e-commerce on the road, talking to executives, business groups and even students, both at the high school and college levels.

Founded in 1995, the company uses technology to build and manage virtual marketplaces, serving industries such as food and packaging, financial services, manufacturing and telecommunications. Users - mostly small and medium-size companies - can buy and sell products and services and exchange information over 57 "vertical" communities, each of which targets a specialized audience and allows a company to save money by moving activities online.

"We're trying to build a culture at VerticalNet that blends the New Economy with the old," as well as grow the company from its current 1,500 employees to 5,000, Galli said.

In 1999, the publicly traded company reported sales of $20.8 million, and posted a $53.5 million loss.

"If we pull this off, building a large and successful company, kids on the East Coast don't have to go to Silicon Valley to achieve their dreams," he said.

"I believe this part of the country is getting a bad rap in terms of technology."

When he went to Amazon, Galli had no background in technology. The online giant lured him because of his management and leadership skills, he said.

"I was hired to be the adult at Amazon," Galli said.

Still, the transition to the fast-paced New Economy company that sells millions of books, CDs, videos, DVDs, toys and electronics came as a culture shock, he said.

At Amazon, executives made decisions with lightning speed - over e-mail.

"At Black and Decker we spent hours and hours to convince each other to make a decision," Galli said.

"At Amazon, all we worried about was the customer. ... We worked day and night building an experience that would be great."

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