A secret benefactor has chipped in more than $1.8m to give a $900 severance cheque to each of the 2100 laid-off workers at failed online grocer WebVan.
The company closed down this month after burning through $800m in an attempt to set up a national grocery distribution business. Employees were going to be "let go" with no pay.
No-one is owning up to being the donor, but the betting in Silicon Valley is that the mystery man is the company's former chairman, Leslie Borders. It was reported that Borders sold 45 million shares at six cents each shortly before the company ceased operations.
The sale would have netted Borders $2.7m before commissions. He is not taking calls from the press and officials at WebVan, while steadfastly refusing to name the donor, are strongly hinting that Borders is not the man.
Another obvious candidate is former chief executive George Shaheen who quit the company a few weeks before it eventually sank. Shaheen had been given a golden parachute of $375,000 a year for life, but it is believed that he will not see that money now that WebVan has filed for bankruptcy.
Despite the loss of his cheque, Shaheen is not believed to be short of money. He was paid $4m a year as chief executive of Andersen Consulting before he fell for the internet siren-song and joined WebVan at a salary of $500,000 and an unknown number of stock options.
Like Borders, Shaheen is not talking to the press. Nor are other board members which include former Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale, former Yahoo chief executive Tim Koogle, and Christos Cotsakos, chairman and chief executive of E*Trade Group.
Referring to the mystery payment, a spokesperson for Benchmark Capital partner David Beirne, who is also on WebVan's board, said: "We don't know who did it. It would have been great if Benchmark did it, but that's not the case."
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