By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Don calls himself "a simple country lawyer" too. Steve's mother Pat, a former Poet Laureate of Texas, is a published writer and teacher. It's easy to see which parent Steve resembles most.
"His mother could get on an elevator and know everybody on it by the sixth floor," Don says. "I could get on it and ride all day and never meet anyone."
One of his best friends in the 'hood was a spunky girl named Peri Gilpin. "Steve was very studious, always the smartest kid in the class," Gilpin says, "but fun though, really into theater, which I was into. He was always an interesting conversationalist. We had chemistry together at Long [Middle School]. We just never shut up for the whole hour."
Since then, Gilpin and Stodghill have been touchstones for each other. Both attended UT, where Steve majored in government. "We were having complete polar experiences as always," Gilpin says. "He was very serious about his classes. I was very serious about drama and taking theater classes. We didn't cross paths except for socially."
Before going to law school, Stodghill worked a year as a legislative assistant for Congressman Ronald Hall. He loved Washington. Gilpin had done an internship at the Williamstown Theater Festival. "We met at the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel," Gilpin says. "We looked at each other and said, 'We're doing it!' We were so happy."
After graduating from law school in 1987, Stodghill, along with Wagner and Melsheimer, landed at Akin Gump, then the biggest law firm in Dallas. To save money, Steve lived at home and drove a beat-up '78 Buick LeSabre the size of a bass boat. His parents even added on to their house so that he could come and go as he pleased, which brings us to...
When Wagner announced he was leaving law to do an Internet start-up with Mark Cuban, Stodghill tried to talk him out of it. "I said 'Todd, you're a fool,'" Stodghill says. "You're making $100,000 a year. This Internet thing--who knows whether it will last?"
Venture capitalists rejected Wagner and Cuban's pitch. "We didn't have any track record," Wagner acknowledges. He turned to his friends. "I went to each of them and said, 'Only put into us as much as you can afford to lose.'"
So, as he had done for other friends starting businesses, Stodghill wrote him a check.
"He was doing that not because it was a great investment," Melsheimer says. "He didn't know that Internet was one word. It was because Todd was his friend. He's extremely loyal to his friends."
Says Wagner: "I think he knew that, win or lose, I would put everything I had into it. That was good enough for him. That's what friends do, unconditionally. They may not agree that it will be successful, but they put money in because they are friends. I think those early investors were very important, because they believed in what we were trying to do."
Stodghill left Akin Gump to become a name partner in a "boutique" litigation firm. He declines to say how much he invested in broadcast.com, but Wagner estimates the first-round investors got a 500-to-1 return when broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo! in 2000. Stodghill was a very wealthy man and ready for the next phase...
Stodghill's office, Batman fetish aside, displays ample evidence of a charmed life. The barrel-vaulted space has a wall of glass windows soaring 30 feet high, with motorized shades to block the afternoon sun. Created for the developer who built the pink granite skyscraper, Stodghill's office is ostentatious, with black marble floors, sleek black leather furniture and a massive aquarium swimming with tropical fish.
It's also somehow homey, crammed with memorabilia, art and collectibles, including numerous antique swords and spears. What most people notice, though, are the photographs of Stodghill with stars: Elizabeth Hurley, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris Tucker and on and on. In all of the photos, Stodghill has the same expression: wide-eyed wonder and a grin that says, "Wow! I can't believe I'm with [fill in the blank]!" Most he has met through Wagner.
For several years during the '90s, Wagner and Stodghill saw little of each other. Stodghill wasn't holding his breath waiting for Cuban and Co. to hit it big. He'd invested in about 15 buddies' ventures; few paid off. Nothing early on suggested broadcast.com would be any different.
Then the tech-stock boom and Yahoo!'s buyout of broadcast.com sent the net worth of Wagner, Cuban and their investors soaring. Stodghill set his pager to notify him when Yahoo!'s stock went up. He wallowed in the glory, lapping up all the experiences he could. Stodghill was less interested in the day-to-day practice of law--after all, that's what junior associates were for--and more focused on being a salesman. All major law firms need rainmakers who bring in business by schmoozing, and Stodghill had become a world-class schmoozer with three world-class clients--Cuban, Wagner and Yahoo!.