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dallas morning news logo Dallas' most expensive house destroyed by fire
07/11/2002
By MATT SLAGLE / The Associated Press

DALLAS—The city's priciest home—a $44.9 million French chateau-style behemoth just down the road from billionaire Ross Perot—was destroyed in a massive blaze Thursday just weeks before its completion. The mansion, called the Chateau Du Triomphe and listed on the Christie's auction site, burned for eight hours before firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze.

Dallas Fire Department Lt. Doug Dickerson said about 300 firefighters fought the blaze in the exclusive neighborhood of Preston Hollow but couldn't save the home. Damage was pegged at $20 million. Four firefighters were injured as the flames erupted about 1 a.m. Thursday from the roof of the main house of the 10-acre estate. Two firefighters were treated for heat exposure, and two had minor burns when they were hit with falling debris.

"This is one of the largest house fires that we've had," Dickerson said. "It's more like a commercial structure. It's more like the size of a Wal-Mart than a house." The home, along Dallas' "Billionaire Row," had never been occupied. Dickerson said it was too early to say if the fire, which appeared to have started in the attic of the main house, was a work of arson or an accident. Arson investigators at the scene met with building contractors and property owners, snapping pictures, examining building plans and taking notes as they surveyed the damage. Nearby, a smoking timber jutted from the house like a lit cigarette, the tip occasionally flickering with flame. Firefighters in the house aimed their water hoses at the floors, blasting smoky, blackened debris through the shattered windows and onto the ground below. Deputy Chief Mike Price said the house had a sprinkler system, although it was unclear if it was working yet. Numerous fire extinguishers distributed throughout the home were in place for use by construction crews, he said. Dickerson said he did not know how long the investigation would take. "There's a lot of work to be done. The fire cause is just beginning," Dickerson said. "They're going to go in very open-minded and consider all possibilities."

Authorities said they learned of the fire when a security guard reported seeing thick smoke coming from the front of the house. According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the property was owned by Texas Treasure Fields, Inc. and was just weeks from completion. Construction began in 1995, and it had been listed for sale with New York's Christie's auction house, said Steve Malouf, attorney for the owner. The main house, a 43,000-square-foot, three-story structure, had an Olympic-size swimming pool, two master baths with custom marble tubs carved in Italy from a single block of Carrera marble, a wine cellar with a tasting room, a garage for 16 cars with an indoor car-washing facility, 30 air conditioning units and other features. There also was a 17,000-square-foot basement, plus a 2,448-square-foot gatehouse.

The realty agency representing the property, Adleta and Poston Realtors, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Malouf said it remains to be seen if the house, which was insured, will have to be razed or can be rebuilt. Along with Perot, other high-profile neighbors include restaurateur Phil Romano and former Dallas Stars owner Norm Green, who lives next door. Faye Reynolds, a 25-year resident of the neighborhood, said the area was among the most desirable for the wealthy of Dallas. "This is a part of Dallas that still has large lots, trees, creeks. It's one of the most beautiful parts of Dallas," she said. "I think it's the best area in Dallas." Ginny Harrison with the Greater Dallas Association of Realtors said the home was the most expensive in the nation's eighth largest city. "That is the most expensive property in Dallas that we are aware of," she said. "There are a lot of multimillion dollar homes, but not at that level."

Source: The Dallas Morning News


house image

Dallas, Tex., $44.9 million

An unfinished 43,000-square-foot mansion on Strait Lane in the prime estate section of Dallas is on the market for $44.9 million. The ten-acre property originally belonged to George Perrin, founder of Paging Network. Since 1997, it's changed hands twice, and no one has lived there yet.

The home has four bedroom suites, a 21-seat home theater, a 20,000-bottle wine cellar and a 14-car garage. Dubbed Chateau du Triomphe, the house is decked out in mahogany and French limestone. According to listing broker Linda Adleta of Adleta & Poston, the house is 65% completed.


chateau dutriomphe

photos of the house On Strait Lane, often dubbed Dallas’s "Billionaire Row," Château du Triomphe has, over the course of several years, evolved into one of the reigning luxury properties in the United States. The vision for this 10-acre estate began in the mid 1990s with architect Robbie Fusch, president of Fusch, Serold & Partners. Inspired by the Loire Valley châteaux of the late Gothic and early Renaissance periods, Fusch laid out plans for extreme authenticity: a moat around the entry gatehouse, a high stone turret with soaring windows, magnificent groin-vaulted ceilings, nine antique European fireplace mantels, doors from France, extensive mahogany millwork—in short, all the makings of a fairy tale castle surrounded by grounds of equal enchantment.

photos of the houseA romantic grotto, extensive gardens, scenic bluffs, manicured lawns, and a formal motor court with two porte cocheres accent the grounds bordering boulder-strewn Bachman Creek and located not far from the estates of some of Dallas’s most celebrated executives and businesspeople. The entire property is encircled by a nature trail, ideal for contemplative strolls or jogging. Plans also exist for a private lake, yet another stunning water feature for the château.

The interior focuses on water as well, with a natatorium of more than 6,200 square feet taking center stage. Doors with arched fanlights, the L-shaped pool, lounge areas, and an arched skylight above bathe this fabulous space in considerable light. Interior proportions measure nearly 43,000 square feet; thus, one of the great challenges has been to keep intimacy a priority. To that end, the home contains no grand ballroom spaces but rather venues for entertaining—such as the mahogany library and the "family" living room—that are ever welcoming regardless of how large or small the gathering.

Similarly, the four principal bedroom suites on the third floor say much about private pampering, particularly the owner’s suite. Here the fireplace is dressed in French limestone, the balcony has a lovely overlook to the creek, and the two master baths feature custom marble tubs that were carved in Verona, Italy, from a single block of Carrera marble. Further, there are three apartments, each with its own living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bath.

The home offers many niceties of a bygone era: a gift-wrapping room, a butler’s pantry off the gourmet kitchen, ladies’ and men’s changing rooms, a wine cellar with a tasting room, a loggia, and a proposed billiards room on the fourth floor. The finest in 21st-Century technology is available here, from the home theater to the 160 tons of central air conditioning. Garage space for 16 cars is complemented by an indoor car-washing facility.

Today, Château du Triomphe is still a masterpiece in the making, with a few finishing touches to be made at the purchaser’s discretion. It is a rare opportunity to acquire a property of unparalleled grandeur and complete the canvas with one’s own impeccable taste.

Offered at $44,900,000

Source: Christies Great Estates


Paging's white-hot star starts to fall from favor

RCR Wireless News
by MIKE DANO
October 22, 2001

Paging lit up the wireless industry like a white-hot star. It showed that fistfuls of money could be made using wireless technology. It showed that wireless companies could grow by leaps and bounds virtually overnight. Paging showed the industry that millions and millions of people across the country-and across the world-are ready and willing to pay for the types of benefits wireless technology can provide.

And now it's providing another valuable lesson for the rest of today's wireless industry. It's proving that with spectacular growth, there's also the chance of spectacular descent-the white-hot star has the potential to go nova.

The ongoing chronicle of the paging industry may provide a sort of guide map for today's burgeoning wireless companies, giving them a hint of what to do and what not to do. The future of today's wireless companies may depend on the history of those past.

The beginnings

The chronicle of the paging industry started more than 50 years ago with a type of messaging service that simply cycled through a series of voice messages. Users would tap into the publicly broadcast messages and listen for ones that applied to them. It was a messy, time-consuming way of communicating, but it worked. It also fueled the need for better and more personal methods of paging.

As the industry began to grow and the technologies matured, select entrepreneurs began to see the need and the potential for wireless communications. Those entrepreneurs decided to build transmitting towers-often just one or two-to cash in on paging enthusiasts in their corner of the nation. These fledgling paging systems began popping up across the country.

Until the late 1970s, the paging market was dominated by these small, "mom-and-pop" paging carriers, which almost exclusively served businesses. Hospitals-still a paging mainstay-emergency services and others quickly picked up wireless paging to improve their response times and keep in touch with their employees. Individual consumers were left out of the equation because the price of paging was simply too high. Beepers could run anywhere between $150 to almost $300-an exorbitant price for most people.

This pricing situation in turn kept paging players small because they couldn't tap into the mass market. Also, additional spectrum was too costly and the paging regulatory climate was too complicated for carriers to try for anything more. For years, paging licenses were given out on a tower-by-tower basis-a situation that didn't exactly foster expansion.

"You did see a lot of local systems, a lot of local players," said Brad Scott, president of Network Services L.L.C., the nation's newest nationwide paging player. Scott, a paging veteran, has worked with a variety of paging carriers and resellers.

The paging carrier situation began to change in the early 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission started to award more spectrum and larger licenses. This brought in new paging players, including TV broadcast subcarriers, private carrier paging and specialized mobile radio services. Suddenly, with the help of more spectrum, technological advances and falling prices, the small radio common carrier industry was blown wide open.

Massive growth

It proved to be a rough process, but by the late 1980s several companies managed to raise the funds needed to begin their quest toward nationwide paging services. Paging Network Inc., Metromedia Inc. and others began breaking new ground and offering paging services to the mass market.

These brave companies sought to make paging a household word in their attempt to bring wireless paging to the country. A variety of factors-including extra spectrum, looser regulations, technological jumps and dropping prices-worked to bring paging to the consumer. Now wives could keep in touch with husbands, teens with parents and friends with friends. Paging became a fashionable, everyman's way of staying in touch.

And the companies made millions. Carriers reported thousands of new subscribers every month. The stock prices of publicly traded paging carriers shot through the roof, and Wall Street wallowed in the high valuations. The paging industry became a place of multimillion-dollar deals and everyone rejoiced in an industry whose time had come.

"This industry continues to grow at 25 percent per year and that growth covers a lot of sins," PageNet Chairman George Perrin told RCR Wireless News in 1995. "We've all been blessed by this industry. PageNet may have done a bit better than others. We had a critical (subscriber) mass, hit the industry at the right time and made some right decisions early on in terms of frequencies and their utilization."

Perrin's comments came at a time when the industry was near its zenith and PageNet led the business with a subscriber base nearly three times that of its largest competitor. The company's revenues were $411 million and its operating cash flow was $140 million. The future was bright for PageNet and the rest of the paging industry.

But that future may have burned a little too bright. In order to garner even more customers and continue to impress Wall Street investors, paging companies doled out millions and millions in huge acquisitions and network upgrades. The pace became furious. "You saw tremendous consolidation," Scott said.

"There's nothing wrong with consolidation done properly because it brings synergies to the business," said Michael Gill, executive vice president and director of research with Tejas Securities Group Inc., which follows today's paging companies. "But the consolidation occurred in many cases at prices that were unsupportable based on their (carriers') asset base. And the assets of these companies primarily is their subscriber base."

The industry reached a fevered pitch as carriers-in order to increase their subscriber numbers-dropped paging prices below their business worth, paid for network upgrades and funded the acquisition of other companies. The situation rapidly deteriorated as investors began to back away.

"They (the carriers) were all trying to roll up the industry, which made some intellectual sense, but obviously in hindsight it was a disaster," Gill said.

The end?

And then came mobile phones. For a time the effect of this new service was negligible, but soon paging customers began to throw out their trusty pagers in favor of a phone they could take anywhere. "The No. 1 reason (for the decline in paging) has got to be the proliferation of cellular phones," Gill said.

Paging companies worked to offset the drops in their subscriber numbers-offering advanced services such as two-way paging-but nothing could stop the tide. PageNet, the crown jewel of the paging industry, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and later merged with Arch Wireless Inc., one of today's few remaining paging players. Other major paging companies, including WebLink Wireless Inc., MobileMedia Corp. and TSR Wireless L.LC., have fallen into bankruptcy. Even longtime paging vendor Glenayre Technologies Inc. dropped out of the paging business. "It's very interesting how the industry has changed," Scott said.

While the introduction of mobile phones definitely helped push the paging industry into its current situation, a variety of other factors were involved. High valuations, cut-throat pricing, the importance placed on subscriber additions and unchecked spending are all parts of the whole, and the varied segments of today's wireless industry would likely do well to note the reasons behind the rise and decline of the wireless paging industry.


PAGENET CUTS STAFF TO EXPAND BUSINESS

RCR Wireless News
by Antony Bruno
February 16, 1998

Paging Network Inc. last week disclosed a plan to dramatically restructure its U.S. operations, the most notable aspect of which includes a 30-percent reduction in work force during the next nine to 15 months.

This reduction will affect about 1,800 employees in positions such as customer service, billing and accounting, order fulfillment, inventory management and some technical operations. PageNet said it intends to strip its regional operations of these responsibilities and instead have these functions performed on a national basis in what it calls Centers of Excellence.

There will be about five such centers, each focusing on a different area of business. For instance, there will be one national Center of Excellence handling all of the company's customer service, one for billing and accounting, one for inventory management, and so on. PageNet's regional operations will continue to focus on sales and marketing.

According to Mark Knickrehm, PageNet's recently hired chief financial officer, this will allow for better training and easier technological upgrades, which are more difficult to do region by region.

"We now have call centers with solid staff but not the automation to bring them the information they need. We can't deliver that technology to 50 locations across the country," he said.

In addition to his financial duties, Knickrehm will take on the company's strategic planning responsibilities and also will be in charge of human resources, legal affairs and technical and operational planning.

Knickrehm expects about half of the 30-percent reduction to come from natural attrition. He said the turnover rate for many of the positions slated to be eliminated is between 25 percent to 50 percent because they are entry-level, low-skill positions. PageNet plans to use temporary workers to fill the positions until the positions are eliminated. For those employees who choose to stay on until the positions are either moved or terminated, Knickrehm said PageNet will assist them with a severance package, out-placement and job counseling.

This "realignment," as the company calls it, will force the company to record a charge of about $65 million to $80 million in the first quarter, mostly due to costs incurred from replacing current information systems, moving offices and funding severance packages.

However, PageNet said the realignment is expected to create recurring performance improvements and cost savings of $45 million to $55 million and another $75 million increase in incremental annual revenue once the process is complete.

As part of this realignment, Michael DiMarco, formerly senior vice president of operations, was appointed executive vice president of sales. Edward Mullinix Jr., recently hired as senior vice president of strategic planning, will assume the role of executive vice president of operations.

DiMarco will lead the effort to expand the company's sales force, while Mullinix will guide the creation and operation of the new Centers of Excellence.

"While it has required a number of difficult decisions and will ultimately affect the jobs of many of our associates, it is a solid, forward-looking plan that will help us to reach our goals as an organization," said John Frazee Jr., PageNet chairman, president and chief executive officer. "The realignment creates a flexible, efficient organization for launching and supporting our new strategy."

This strategy to transform PageNet from a paging company to what Frazee calls a "wireless information provider." This evolution cannot occur, said PageNet executives, until the company can lighten its load and more easily move to a new business platform.

"We have a company now that can't evolve the way we want the company to evolve," said Scott Baradell, director of corporate communications for PageNet. "We're not as nimble as an organization as we want to be."

Initial media reports of the layoff plan suggested the company was financially wounded by competition from personal communications services digital phones and was cutting costs to stay afloat. Baradell unctuously dismissed this assumption.

"The primary point of the realignment is to create a better organization, not to cut costs," he said. "I think the financial media is not catching on here. When you talk about PCS and paging ... they're playing basketball and we're playing baseball," he said, quoting a favorite saying of his boss, Frazee.

This plan is a significant turning point for the nation's largest paging carrier. In essence, all of PageNet's customer acquisition and network buildout has been a precursor to this point. Frazee himself defined PageNet as a start-up company with billion-dollar revenues. Baradell perhaps summed up the strategy best.

"PageNet's 10 million customers and resources are a platform for delivering all sorts of information content," he said, comparing PageNet to a cable TV company. "We have 10 million set-top boxes providing basic cable and now we're in a position to offer HBO and other premium services."

Frazee said he hopes to use paging technology to deliver more than a "cheap beep," but also to deliver various types of information. The company already provides information services from news outlets like CNN, as well as sports outlets and financial services, and is working to secure similar agreements in the future. Frazee also has considered allowing marketers access to its customer base so it could page subscribers to advertise services and promotions, sort of like direct mail.

"We have barely scratched the surface of our ability to offer customized, value-added information services to our customers," Frazee said. "These information services will span the worlds of business and finance; government and education; sports and entertainment; information oriented to consumers and to individual corporations; and other targeted, branded applications that will be marketed and distributed by PageNet and transmitted over our wireless network."

PageNet executives expect this new business tack to help the company grow well beyond its current level, an ironic prediction after announcing 1,800 layoffs.

"I think it's a significant change but ultimately a highly valuable one to those who are here and expect to grow the company to as big a size or bigger," Knickrehm said. "Most of the growth in staff for the future will come in the sales force. I anticipate this company will be a lot bigger."

Wall Street apparently bought the story, as PageNet stock hovered at more than $14 following the announcement, capping a month-long climb that began at $9.70.

Industry analysts have expressed cautious optimism.

"One of the things that they're doing that's exciting is taking a lot of proactive steps to stay ahead of the curve," said John Zahurancik, North American telecom consultant for The Strategis Group. "This is a step PageNet is taking before things go bad."

He said PageNet's core business of 10 million customers is generating a large amount of cash flow and to take steps now to do something with that base is a smart move.

"They're in transition from a high-growth phase to the expectation of very large revenue performance," he said. But the move is not without its risks.

"You have to take an organization that to its roots has gone in one direction (fast subscriber growth based on cheap service) and now try to convert that to a company that can sell more services," he said. "This is a different mentality for them and will take some effort to enforce internally within the company."

And with PageNet founder and "guiding light" George Perrin now gone, Zahurancik said he's interested to see how the corporate culture handles this change.

"Anytime you lose 30 percent of your work force, you've got to worry about morale. Big changes like this can really shake up a company. That transition can be brutal."


The Dallas Morning News

September 19, 1995

PageNet bypasses rival to claim top spot

Plano-based PageNet said Monday it is now the biggest paging company in the world. Chairman George Perrin said PageNet's number of subscribers has passed 6 million. That figure puts PageNet ahead of Japan's Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., or NTT, which has long held the top spot. Furthermore, PageNet expects to have 10 million subscribers by the end of 1997. "We're positioned for explosive growth," said Mr. Perrin, who founded the company in 1981.


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