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CEO Daily: Monday, August 10

Twenty years ago the publishing, technology, and financial industries changed forever when the company that commercialized the web browser, Netscape, went public. If you were in business two decades ago it is inconceivable that some or many aspects of your job, career, or industry haven’t been radically changed since that seminal event. Then, as now, numerous companies were hyped as “game-changers” that would “put a dent in the universe.”

Most never will. Netscape did.

Netscape took a wonky technical construct—the Internet—and made it simple for anyone to use. It changed the face of information by making it easy to publish textual and graphical material—previously the preserve of newspapers and magazines—in an electronic format that was easy for lay people to access. Netscape ushered Silicon Valley into its next phase by bringing “the Web into popular consciousness” and demonstrating “that the Web could be a place to make fortunes fast,” according to a book, “1995: The Year the Future Began,” by W. Joseph Campbell, as described in a provocative review in The New Yorker.

Ten years ago, on the tenth anniversary of Netscape’s IPO, a Fortune editor named Joe Nocera suggested to me that I publish an oral history of Netscape. Nocera was a big fan of the art from of the oral history, particularly the seminal biography of the tragic socialite and Andy Warhol acolyte Edie Sedgwick, written by George Plimpton and Jean Stein. I set out to interview many of the early players in Netscape, and it is fascinating now to look back at that relatively quiet time of 2005 to see how much has changed. Marc Andreessen wasn’t yet the Valley’s most frequently quoted venture capitalist. John Doerr was very much the industry’s leading light. Leaders Jim Clark and Jim Barksdale are mostly retired and far less frequently heard from these days.

Netscape is an odd company to celebrate. It lasted barely five years, got trounced by Microsoft, and never made any money to speak of. (Like Fortune publisher Time Inc’s former parent, Time Warner, it also was purchased by AOL, now owned by a phone company.) Yet Netscape made its early investors gobs of money, created an alumni network the envy of much more established companies, and changed our everyday lives. More than that, it taught an entire industry how to dream. Read the 10-year-old look back on the 20th anniversary of Netscape’s IPO here. And dream something big today.

Today’s news below.

Adam Lashinsky

Top News

• Buffett nears deal for Precision Castparts

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway could be on the hunt for the company’s largest purchase ever. Multiple media outlets have reported on the possibility of the deal for Precision Castparts, which makes aircraft components and energy-production equipment, rumored to cost more than $30 billion. A deal would make sense as Buffett favors firms in the industrial sector. His company already owns parts maker Marmon and specialty chemicals company Lubrizol.  Reuters

• Dick Costolo to leave Twitter board

Dick Costolo, who stepped down as chief executive for Twitter in June, is now reportedly planning to leave the social media’ company’s board. For now, co-founder Jack Dorsey is temporarily serving as CEO, while also leading mobile payment company Square, which he also founded. Investors are hoping that a change of leadership will help Twitter’s growth prospects and stock price, but the company likely needs more than just a new CEO.  Fortune

• 3G’s brands losing market share
Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Capital Partners has established a reputation for cutting costs out of food-and-beverage businesses. But efforts to boost sales appear to be less successful. WSJ reports a mixed sales performance for the companies 3G has invested in or acquired. Ketchup maker Heinz, for example, has lost market share in 65% of the food categories in which it has brands. For the definitive story behind 3G’s acquisition of Heinz, read Jennifer Reingold’s 2013 feature story, “Squeezing Heinz.” People say part of the issue is priorities, as the main focus is on reducing spending and increasing efficiency, followed by interest in growth.  WSJ (subscription required)
• SEC prepares three fraud cases

The Securities and Exchange Commission is working with other authorities to prepare to file charges in three fraud cases, including a probe in an investigation combining insider trading and cybersecurity and a case into the hiring of the children of elite Chinese political figures in a possible bribery case. The SEC has been more active in lower profile cases, but recently has started to pursue bigger cases to redefine its status as Wall Street’s chief regulator. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

• Restaurants faces chef shortage

The restaurant industry is facing major challenges filling up its top-rated, high-end kitchens, with insiders, saying there are far too many open positions for the number of candidates on the market. Part of the problem? There are too many fine dining restaurants, with many opening their doors in recent years as the economy has improved. The barrier to entry for talent is also tough: culinary school is expensive but starting wages are low.  Fortune

• Facebook knows how you LOL

When you laugh out loud and want to share your joy with the digital world, how do you best describe it? Facebook’s research team spent some time learning how the so called “e-laugh” has evolved over time, and it found that many people prefer to go with variations of “haha” or “hehe.” An emoji has also become a popular way to express laughter online. Which term is losing out? LOL – which literally stands for “laugh out loud.” Facebook found only 1.9% of users are using that expression.  Wired

• Coca-Cola takes stance on science

Coca-Cola is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis, teaming up with scientists who are advancing a message that promotes more exercise and advises less concern about cutting calories. To the cynical reader, this bet makes sense as the beverage giant has seen sales pressured for its sodas as consumers look for an easy target to cut calories from their diets. Health experts lament the message backed by Coke is misleading.  New York Times (subscription required)

5 things to watch for this week

Retail sales and Greek bailout talks — 5 things to watch for this week. This week’s story can be found here.