IAC chief Barry Diller sitting on cash pile and no debt Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive of media conglomerate IAC/InterActive Corp, has lived an American corporate dream. Starting out as a trainee in a mailroom, he has built a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense businessman with a vision. His long and legendary run of success in the US entertainment industry is augmented by his role today as an influential internet mogul. The 66-year-old is one of the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of US$1.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He is also the second highest-paid chief executive in the US with a total compensation this year of US$184 million, according to the Corporate Library. Born in San Francisco, Mr Diller began his career in the mailroom of the Los Angeles-based William Morris Agency, a major Hollywood talent management company. By 1966, he was hired by television network ABC and was soon placed in charge of negotiating broadcast rights to feature films. Three years later, he was promoted to vice-president in charge of feature films and programme development. In was in this position that he created the 'ABC Movie of the Week', which pioneered made-for-television movies. The climb to the top of the corporate ladder went fairly quick after that. In 1974, he started a 10-year stint as the chairman and chief executive of Paramount Pictures Corp. From October 1984 to April 1992, he served as chairman and chief executive of Fox and was responsible for the creation of Fox Broadcasting and its motion picture operations. In 1992, he acquired a stake in the home-shopping cable channel QVC, which he ran until 1995. He left to become the head of Silver King Communications, which became the Home Shopping Network in 1996 and renamed USA Network in 1998. The USA Network and its assets were later sold off to Vivendi. Mr Diller retained the assets of the Home Shopping Network and the subsequent internet assets he acquired to bolster the HSN Online stable that was to become IAC/InterActive Corp in 2003. He has since led IAC to a series of acquisitions in internet firms, including Ticketmaster, Expedia, Citysearch, Match.com, LendingTree and Web search engine AskJeeves, which was relaunched as Ask.com in 2006. IAC last month reported third-quarter revenue rose to US$369.3 million, surpassing analysts' forecasts of US$353.5 million, even as it spun off four units - the Ticketmaster ticketing service, the LendingTree online mortgage business, the HSN shopping network and the Interval time-share exchange - to sharpen its focus on about 35 internet businesses in 40 countries. Showing his hard-nosed business acumen, Mr Diller is currently sitting on a pile of cash which he intends to use for a 'cascade' of acquisitions at bargain prices as the economic crisis deepens. At the recent Reuters Media Summit in New York, Mr Diller said he expected IAC's war chest to reach US$2.2 billion by March next year, from the current US$1.4 billion. With little debt, that meant the internet media firm could consider acquisitions of up to US$5 billion, Reuters reported. Mr Diller concedes that he has always been criticised for being overcapitalised, but shrugged off the idea that a share repurchase would boost investor interest in IAC. 'I don't care if an investor buys our stock or not,' he said, noting that IAC was well-capitalised at a time when many others were struggling to refinance their heavy debt loads. How do you pursue a growth strategy in this challenging economic environment? With a company like ours, a vast majority of our revenue comes from online advertising. Given that online advertising is only about 5 per cent of the total advertising pie and given that advertisers are allocating larger share of their budgets to advertising on the internet, we don't see any serious revenue issues for the next several years. When you go through this period of the unknown, your knowledge of the business allows you to simply be more certain in your planning and more conservative. Each company follows different kinds of planning and processes. But eventually every company has to pay attention to its capitalisation more than anything else. What opportunities are out there right now? In general, there is an opportunity for acquisition. You can expand your brand. You can increase your market share. You can probably outspend the competition with the goal of emerging stronger when this tough period ends. Which opportunities are you looking at on the mainland? IAC is a cash-rich organisation with no debt. So we plan to use a portion of our cash on hand to cultivate the growth and expansion of our businesses in China, to buy and build additional strategic businesses there and throughout Asia. At the end of last year, China was estimated to have 210 million internet users, only 5 million fewer than the US. However, ad spend in the US is about 15 times that of China. For IAC, I can't imagine that the mainland is not going to be a major source of activity. What specific plans do you have for other major markets in the region? We have had some initial thoughts on India. We're in Korea, which is a country that is so advanced in many areas of the internet. We really want to learn from these advances and apply that somewhere else in Asia and the US. Between 12 and 15 per cent of IAC's revenues now come from the international market. We hope to grow this to 50 per cent over the next three to five years, with Asia expected to represent roughly half of that growth. Ask.com recently launched the next generation of its site. What are the growth initiatives for this part of your business? We just came out with that new product in October. It includes significant relevance, user interface and speed enhancements. The improvements will allow us to further broaden distribution. Is there a Chinese-language version in the works? Yes. We're now in the planning stage. With editor Tina Brown, you have also launched this year the news site called the Daily Beast. How is that going? The Daily Beast doesn't just aggregate content; it is also a source of original content. It encourages people to write daily. It's a different concept than the Huffington Post, although there are some superficial similarities. There is a large opportunity in China for this kind of site. The design of the IAC headquarters in Manhattan has been described as a collaboration between you and the architect Frank Gehry. Did you imagine it would be a new landmark in New York? By definition, landmarks don't happen overnight. But the building has already become something of an icon. You started your career in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency. What lessons did you learn? The great lesson I learned there is that you need to understand your areas of interest to the best of your abilities. One of the good things about working in the mailroom is that it is a file room where essentially you can learn the entire history of the business. It gave me the fundamental knowledge of the world of entertainment. You can draw up specific goals, but things won't open up without that foundation of understanding the work you want to do. Do you have any intentions of returning to the movie business? Oh my god, no. There are six major motion picture companies in the world and I ran three of them. So I can't imagine having anything less interesting to occupy me.