BY CECILIA KANG AND ELISE ACKERMAN
Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2001
Back in the early '90s, when Network Associates was still a small
company called McAfee Associates, a group of employees began an
unusual office tournament: The goal was to score points by having sex
in different places around the Santa Clara headquarters.
A table in the glass-walled conference room was worth 16 points --
double if used during business hours. Founder John McAfee's office was
worth eight points, and a private storage closet was worth two points.
The player with the most points won.
``It was meant to be very tongue-in-cheek,'' said Chris Harget, a
former product manager who declined an invitation to play.
Blend of hippie, hacker
The game was part of the free-spirited blend of hippie culture and
hacker innovation that defined McAfee Associates in the early days,
before Bill Larson came aboard and professionalized it.
In a rare interview, McAfee, now 55 and living in Colorado, said he
wasn't aware of the contest. But ``I didn't look down on anything as
long as work got done,'' he said. ``We had lots of fun.''
A software engineer at Lockheed Corp., McAfee briefly ran the American
Institute for Safe Sex Practices, which issued identification cards
for people who tested HIV-negative.
That business quickly fizzled, and in 1989, McAfee turned his
attention to another kind of virus -- the kind made of malignant
McAfee posted his antivirus program on computer bulletin boards run
from computers in his creaky one-bedroom farmhouse on Cheeney Street
in Santa Clara. Users were encouraged to try the program and pay for
it if they found it useful. The concept, rooted in an ethic of
openness and trust, was called shareware.
McAfee's timing was perfect -- alarm was spreading about viruses with
names such as Columbus Day and Michelangelo. By 1992, untold thousands
of individuals had downloaded his program and more than half of the
companies in the Fortune 100 had purchased licenses to use it.
As software orders from around the world piled up on the fax machine
in McAfee's laundry room, Martha Schram, a practicing witch, fielded
customer service calls from a chair pulled up to the washer and dryer,
while Aryeh Goretsky solved tech support problems from the kitchen
table. McAfee's wife, Judy, helped with billing and accounting between
trips as a United Airlines flight attendant.
The sense of creative camaraderie continued after the company moved to
more conventional offices. Schram and two other Wiccans (as those who
practice witchcraft as a religion prefer to call themselves) beat hand
drums in a lunchtime ritual on the office park's lawn. A handful of
employees regularly practiced sword fights and rehearsed Shakespeare.
One programmer insisted on working only at night while wearing
sunglasses and staring at a monitor turned to its brightest setting;
he said it made him feel like he was floating on air.
``There was a feeling that we were half cowboy, half paramedic,'' said
Harget, who left the company in 1998 after five years in various
marketing positions. ``It was tremendously gratifying.''
Employees said that McAfee nurtured the laid-back environment. ``John
was never boss,'' said Schram, who retired in 1995 to run a sheep farm
in Langlois, Ore.
McAfee did everything from plunging a clogged toilet to dashing out to
buy pencils, electronic parts and sandwiches for his employees. ``My
job was to run around and ask people what their problems were,'' he
said. ``I worked for them so that they could get their jobs done.''
But as the company grew bigger, McAfee found he didn't like the
challenges of managing dozens of employees.
During the company's 1992 round-the-world road show to pitch its
initial public offering to investors, he occasionally would duck out
of the conference room, find a piano in a hotel lobby and entertain
passersby with New Age compositions. He didn't like to stick around
After the successful IPO, McAfee and many of his employees were
millionaires, and he decided to get out.
Living in seclusion
He brought in Larson to replace him and moved to a secluded mansion in
Woodland Park, Colo., about 15 miles from the nearest small town. He
started Tribal Voice, an Internet communities site that folded last
Today, still protective of his privacy, he sits on the boards of a few
companies, including Zone Labs, and spends his days hiking in the
surrounding mountains, singing Vedic chants and visiting his beach
house in La Selva Beach, south of Santa Cruz.
He doesn't look back. ``It's far more important to me today that I
have a neighbor with a cow that keeps coming onto my property,'' he
said. ``These are tough problems. What happened 10 years ago isn't
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Received on Thu Feb 15 02:49 CST 2001