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July 17, 2002

Once-Troubled Company Poised To Emerge From Bankruptcy

Inman News Features is not only still clinging to life, but also positioning itself for future growth and profitability.

The California company should emerge from its bankruptcy by the end of September, according to CEO Tom Orsi, who was brought on board as president in January 2001, then became CEO two months later when split off from magazine publisher Homes & Land and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Orsi is a respected executive known for his impeccable ethics and stand-up approach to business and finance. He joined after a 40-year career with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Orsi attacked the company?s cost structure, eliminated jobs, focused attention on the telemarketing sales staff and heaped more responsibility on company executive John Perkins, recently promoted from VP of business development to COO. Perkins has a strong real estate background and joined after that company bought his company, San Diego-based Real Estate Village.

"We?re not shutting our doors. We?re not shutting our Web site or any products or services," Orsi said at the time of the bankruptcy. "We have a fairly significant revenue stream that will allow us to sustain ourselves through this period. We expect to emerge from this relatively quickly and continue."

The company today has 115 employees--down from around 230--in its Palo Alto and San Diego, Calif., and Tallahassee, Fla., offices. Orsi said revenues declined only 20 percent while the headcount was halved, an accomplishment he attributes more to deflating a bloated payroll than to implementing any particularly amazing operating efficiencies.

The company has exceeded its financial projections and the discharge of the bankruptcy is around the corner. Orsi attributed a few-months delay in the bankruptcy discharge to courthouse bureaucracy, not business-related issues.

"From a business point of view we are ahead of where we thought we would be. We were very conservative in the plan, and we have done some things internally that have strengthened the company," he said.

Orsi attributed the company?s stronger financial position in part to significant improvements in customer service that he said "had a noticeable effect" on customer retention. The company still loses customers due to the comings-and-goings of agents in the real estate business, but customer losses have been reduced "substantially," he said.

The privately held company has been generating positive cash from operations since the bankruptcy filing and now has almost $2 million in the bank. Some of the cash will be consumed by repayment of debt at the conclusion of the bankruptcy, but Orsi said the company also is looking for "prudent" growth and expansion opportunities that will generate an immediate return on investment.

The company is profitable on an earnings-before-interest-taxes-depreciation-and-amortization-basis and expects to continue to post such results for the foreseeable future. But bottom-line profitability remains "a bit more elusive," Orsi said, and won?t be in the cards for a while. provides personalized Web sites, productivity tools and advertising for real estate agents and has a powerhouse domain name and a consumer real estate portal that includes 600,000 homes for-sale listings from The Real Estate Book, MLSs and real estate brokers and agents. The company is aiming to add more listings and other content for agent Web sites and consumers.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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