James Clark Biography

Computer Programmer(1944–)
Technology entrepreneur James Clark started Silicon Graphics, launched Netscape with Marc Andreessen and created Healtheon, which merged with WebMD.

Synopsis

James Clark was born on March 23, 1944, in Plainview, Texas. At Stanford, he developed a program called the Geometry Engine. He started Silicon Graphics Inc. in 1981 before quitting the company in 1994. The same day, he and Marc Andreessen agreed to launch Netscape. It was sold to America Online in 1999, but Clark had already started a new venture by then, Healtheon, which would soon merge with WebMD.

Early Life

From his poverty-stricken childhood in Texas, Jim Clark rose to become one of the most famous and successful high-tech entrepreneurs in the world. Born in 1944, Clark was a strong-willed boy with a rebellious streak that became more pronounced after his parents divorced when he was 14. His mother supported him and his two siblings on $225 a month (she now lives in a house bought with Netscape stock that her son gave her).

In high school, Clark ran into trouble for setting off a smoke bomb on the band bus, swearing at an English teacher, drinking and drag racing. By age 16, he'd had enough. He dropped out of school and joined the Navy. There, he got his high school equivalency degree, began learning about electronics, and made money on the side by loan-sharking cash to other recruits at interest rates of 40 percent.

After the Navy, Clark enrolled in the University of New Orleans and worked his way through college and graduate school at the University of Utah while supporting a wife and two daughters. After getting his Ph.D., he had trouble finding his feet. He tried teaching, then consulting, then teaching again, this time as an associate professor at Stanford University.

Entrepreneurial Success

At Stanford, he developed a program called the Geometry Engine which generated three-dimensional computer graphics. He left academia in 1981 to start Silicon Graphics Incorporated with $25,000 he borrowed from a friend. By 1986,the company had revenues of $40 million and had revolutionized the design process for everything from bridges and airplanes to special effects for movies, including Terminator 2 (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993).

As the company grew, shareholders brought in more conservative management who put the reins on Clark's freewheeling style. Clark, rumored to have an explosive temper, felt stifled. In 1994, he quit the company and sold his stock.

Netscape

The same day he resigned, Clark sent an email to Marc Andreessen, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois who had developed a Web browser called Mosaic at a time when most people didn't know the Web existed. Clark and Andreessen agreed to launch a new company devoted to Web software, and Netscape was born. The company had a phenomenal impact, quickly dominating the fledgling browser market and scaring industry giant Microsoft into changing its corporate focus.

Netscape was sold to America Online in 1999, but Clark had already started a new venture by then, an online health information service for doctors. Called Healtheon, the company became the biggest IPO (Initial Public Offering) of the year in 1999. Early investor interest in the company indicated that Clark had successfully launched three major technology start-ups in less than two decades.

WebMD

In July of 1999, Clark merged Healtheon with WebMD, another successful online health forum. That same year he published an autobiography, Netscape Time: The Making of the Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Took on Microsoft, which offered a first-hand account of Netscape’s race to beat Microsoft for control of the Internet. The book also detailed how and why Clark instigated the ongoing governmental antitrust trial against Microsoft.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!