Many of the people that like to keep an eye on John McAfee were shocked and amazed by the announcement today that he will be parting ways with MGT Capital Investments, a company that he helped to infuse with a new mission and a new sense of purpose. I first wrote about MGT shortly after McAfee joined - I was among the majority that had never heard of this company, an obscure entity that had traded in a variety of enterprises down the years, from medical equipment to online gambling. Upon the news of McAfee's contract, the stock price shot up from 25 cents to $5.00 overnight. Such was the instant power of bringing in John McAfee.
Also overnight, MGT pivoted to a dual focus - cybersecurity and mining Bitcoin. McAfee was to play a major role in both lines, laying out the vision for cybersecurity innovation while, at the same time, building crucial relationships that would be vital to MGT conducting successful and profitable mining operations. I remember these early days as a time of great optimism, and hearing McAfee talk about his vision inspired many people to invest in MGT stock. Now, nearly two years later, some people are wondering what changed. Why did things not go "according to plan" in a perfect ballet of unfolding elegance?
The answer, as with so many things, is that life intervened. I won't mention mice or men, but it would be difficult to lay hands on a human being that has not had their most meticulous of plans derailed by the realities we are not in control over.
The story of MGT Capital Investments runs like so many of these human tales - it is a heady mix of stunning success intermingled with profound disappointments. In the short period since it's rebirth, MGT has suffered an incredible string of setbacks. Delisting from the NYSE. Hostile investors and toxic financing. A lawsuit with Intel over using John McAfee's name. Technology partners that did not deliver. You name it, chances are MGT has dealt with something like it over the last 2 years.
But make no mistake. Some of these outcomes were the fruit of calculated risk. Anyone that believes that both the board and company leadership did not know exactly who it was they were bringing on, and the risk that move entailed, is deluding themselves. And much of the hostility from "old Wall Street" has been directed at McAfee, his lifestyle, and the types of things he says and does. Freedom frightens many people, especially established people - and most especially when it is lived in plain sight. Because of this reality, for McAfee to see MGT blossom to it's full potential, it is necessary that he step aside. And now that a solid foundation has been laid, he can do so without peril.
Participating in social media, I saw many shareholders lamenting the fact that they could not have John McAfee without also getting JOHN MCAFEE. Working on McAfee's 2016 Presidential campaign, I encountered this attitude several times. Some new people would come in, with the best of intentions, and invariably wander on to the subject of how to De-McAfee John McAfee. They would describe, very neatly, all of the things they saw that he should do differently, and how he should do it.
One early conference call got as far as suggesting that McAfee only be allowed to speak on a delay behind the censor button of a staffer, at which point I felt the need to interject. So what you want is John McAfee without actually having to have John McAfee. Sorry, scutch... I get the feeling you all are going to be disappointed. And they were - every time.
And so it should be. It is the height of stupidity to believe that McAfee could have lived the life that he has, and done the things he has done, if he had forced himself to live under the dictates of others. Yes, he has the shine. Yes, people and even organizations want that. But no one gets to dictate the terms.
Perhaps the best evidence that MGT remains in good hands is that the management there realized this. They allowed McAfee to "do his thing" and, in doing so, helped cement a path over the bountiful obstacles and onto solid ground for success. While the fortunes of MGT may now be tied intimately with the future of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, I am a believer in the idea that these concepts are with us to stay. For those that also believe this, it is easy to have faith in the rapidly expanding mining juggernaut McAfee has helped to construct.
Often when there are two paths, life rather than preference dictates which is the best one to take. Cybersecurity is hard to do right and expensive as hell to develop. Good cybersecurity is even harder, and even more expensive. Companies spend billions on protection, and these companies still get hacked. One thing MGT has not enjoyed was access to a large supply of expendable cash. They invested what they could, but the rise of Bitcoin dictated that this was not the path to take. The duty of a public company is to be profitable, not to throw good money after bad in a difficult and competitive space.
So where does this leave John McAfee?
I cannot believe that it "leaves" him anywhere. It puts him where he belongs - back in his natural habitat as a free agent. Working on his campaign, and then later on a variety of projects and collaborations, I have formed my own image of the man. Many look at McAfee and see a madman, many a genius, and some both. Some see a cybersecurity legend, some a blockchain pioneer. But in my view McAfee is first, and foremost, an artist and a human being. And the world and life itself is his canvas. While he may joke about "toiling in obscurity" it takes far more imagination than I can muster to envision him in that condition.
All I can say to the world is - look out! McAfee is loose again. His mission: to create strange new worlds, to seek out new cryptocurrencies and new ICO's, to boldly go where few humans dare to venture.
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