News Articles

Kertzman's dream job

He gets paid to watch TV, surf the Web, develop electronic gadgets 1/27/2002 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Mitchell Kertzman, CEO, Liberate Technologies

Mitchell Kertzman, CEO, Liberate Technologies

B. January 1949; attended Brandeis University; honorary doctorate of humane letters from University of Massachusetts, Lowell; founder, Computer Solutions (renamed Powersoft in 1993 and merged with Sybase in 1995), 1974; chairman and CEO, Sybase Inc., 1996-97; current position since 1998; m. Julie Kertzman; children: ages 11, 9, 7

In the summer of 1968, Boston played unofficial host to the "Summer of Love." Hippies had taken over Boston Common with a tent city, and Beacon Hill residents had had enough. In a move to clean up the park, the city implemented a midnight curfew to help keep the park clear of people looking to make the summer of love last a lifetime.

At that time, 19-year-old Mitchell Kertzman, now president and CEO of interactive-television software company Liberate, was hosting a radio show on progressive-rock station WBCN(FM) Boston. He had joined the station after consistently drawing the largest audience during his Sunday-night time slot on the Brandeis University radio station.

Of course, the fact that it was the only station on the air during his time slot might have helped.

"I was it, and 10 watts goes very far when you don't have any other signals," he says. "It was 1967, people were staying up all night smoking dope. So, what were they going to do? They were going to listen to me." That exposure got him the job at WBCN.

On the day of the curfew, Kertzman received calls from listeners asking him to announce a peaceful protest set for the Common that night.

At first, he refused. But when a friend called up, he decided to mention it, and learned his first lesson on being on-air talent.

"One of the things you find out when you do something like that," Kertzman recalls, "is there are little old ladies and others listening to the radio so they can hear something to complain about.

"Apparently, a woman called the Boston police," he continues, "and said there was a crazy man on the radio telling everyone to go to Boston Common at midnight. There was a protest, and it was totally peaceful, but, the next morning, the police showed up at the station with an arrest warrant for inciting a riot."

And that's when he learned his next lesson. "Apparently," he says, "you don't have to have a riot to be charged with inciting one."

Fortunately for Kertzman, the owner of the radio station was a lawyer and helped prevent his going to jail. Unfortunately, the owner thought Kertzman was trying to sabotage his station. Kertzman was fired.

Considering the rest of his career, he should try to find out who filed the complaint so he can thank her. After losing the radio job and pumping gas, he got a position, through a friend of a friend of his mother, as an audio/visual technician at an educational-software company called Interactive Learning Systems.

"I had never been exposed to computers, and it looked very interesting," he says. "Two years after that, I was in charge of software development."

After starting two unsuccessful businesses in 1974, he formed a company that offered custom programming services and eventually blossomed into creating software for manufacturing needs. In the early '90s, the company changed its name to Powersoft and offered a development tool for Windows.

"We went public in 1993," he says, "and were acquired in 1995 by Sybase for $900 million, which was the biggest merger in the history of the industry."

A year later, Sybase hit a wall, and its board of directors asked Kertzman to move to California and run the company. He did that for a couple years, then hired a successor and looked around for his next opportunity.

That was Liberate, a company that creates software incorporating interactive services in cable set-top boxes. It's currently deployed on about 350,000 set-top boxes, with the company expecting to be on 1 million by year-end.

"The reason Liberate looked so attractive," recalls Kertzman, "was summed up by my wife, who said I should take this job. She said the three things I liked best were watching television, surfing the Web and playing with electronic gadgets. 'And,' she said, 'they'll pay you to do that at this company.'"

Mitchell Kertzman, CEO, Liberate Technologies

Mitchell Kertzman, CEO, Liberate Technologies

B. January 1949; attended Brandeis University; honorary doctorate of humane letters from University of Massachusetts, Lowell; founder, Computer Solutions (renamed Powersoft in 1993 and merged with Sybase in 1995), 1974; chairman and CEO, Sybase Inc., 1996-97; current position since 1998; m. Julie Kertzman; children: ages 11, 9, 7

September
October