Originally created 03/19/00

Online business aims high



ATLANTA -- After $16 billion in acquisitions in the past 18 months and alliances with backers such as Microsoft, CNN and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Internet millionaire Jeff Arnold said Thursday that his Atlanta-based company is still not the market leader.

But it will be, the former University of Georgia student told a group of Atlanta business professionals.

Healtheon/WebMD, the dotcom company led by Mr. Arnold, has been riding a roller coaster on Wall Street since it formed last year, designed to create one online health universe. The stock price has seesawed, reaching heights above $100 a share and falling as low as $30, as edgy investors watch the new mega-site evolve toward a profit-making concern.

The stock lost about half a point Thursday, ending at about $33 a share.

"Being a market leader is incredibily important," said Mr. Arnold, Healtheon's 30-year-old chief executive. "I don't think we're a leader yet, because a whole lot more work needs to be done."

Invited to speak in Atlanta by the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, the fresh-faced Internet entrepreneur took the school's alumni through Healtheon's business plan, which Mr. Arnold said will ultimately exceed investors' expectations. The vision is to link patients, doctors and insurers in one online health-service environment, educating patients and eliminating $280 billion in administrative waste.

Healtheon/WebMD announced a $35 million deal Thursday with Kiva Genetics to provide a channel of genetics information during the next five years. The deal is one of more than 80 for Healtheon since it formed in May in a merger with WebMD, which Mr. Arnold founded in 1998.

The company's continued expansion will ensure its long-term viability, Mr. Arnold said, predicting a string of further innovations such as online lab results and "cybervisits" with doctors.

"We've gone from 200 employees to 5,000 in eight months," Mr. Arnold said.

"A lot of these people ... come from UGA," he said, pointing to his chief marketing officer and former college roommate, Reggie Bradford. "As we continue to build the company, we think there'll be an opportunity to build incubators with the school," supporting small technology start-up firms that would give students a training ground in e-business.

WebMD-TV is the latest part of Healtheon's plan to attract online customers to its emerging array of services. Mr. Arnold said consumers will win again when the company launches its own 24-hour health cable-news network in September, with studios in Los Angles and New York.

Mr. Arnold left the university in the early 1990s before graduation. In a now-famous success story, he started his first company, a cardiac arrhythmia-monitoring firm, in 1994 at age 24 with a $25,000 family loan. Quality Diagnostic Services grew to the nation's No. 1 cardiac-monitoring service and gave Mr. Arnold his first inside look at how health services operate.

At least one university member saw more success for the state in what Mr. Arnold had to say.

"WebMD has put Atlanta on the map as a content hub, in terms of what it's doing with alliances," said Scott Shamp, director of the Dowden Center for New Media Studies in the University of Georgia College of Journalism and Mass Communication. "Every time WebMD promotes itself, it promotes Georgia. That online strategy is applicable to every business."