Like Mr. Kurnit-the former exec VP-consumer products, marketing and development, who split for a key Internet post at MCI Communications Corp. after being passed over for the top spot at Prodigy-Mr. Bennett, 48, is an outsider who's likely to raise the profile of Prodigy's online brand in a fiercely competitive market.
Ross Glatzer, a former Sears, Roebuck & Co. executive who joined Prodigy in 1986, last week said he will retire at 48, although he also said he will re-consider his options in a few months. Mr. Glatzer denied speculation he was squeezed out by IBM Corp., co-owner of Prodigy along with Sears, saying he decided to retire late last year.
Still, it's clear Sears and IBM, which is taking a more active role in the management of Prodigy, were searching for a CEO acceptable to both companies.
Mr. Bennett, like his longtime friend Mr. Kurnit, comes out of cable TV. He was president-CEO of MTV Networks' VH-1 until March 1994 and most recently worked on several projects with producer Norman Lear.
The online services market is growing rapidly, and Prodigy is facing vigorous competition from America Online and the upcoming Microsoft Network. It is also grappling with the role of proprietary commercial services in the Internet age and was the first commercial service to introduce a Web browser.
Rick Spence, online services analyst with Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., said Mr. Bennett needs to add "pop culture spice" to the family-oriented Prodigy service.
"Bennett's biggest challenge will be changing his thinking from a broadcast to a digital model and being able to bring the hipness of an MTV to a Prodigy," Mr. Spence said. "Prodigy made a nice leap with their Web browser, but they're still taking small steps in terms of [offering] compelling content."
Mr. Bennett agreed, saying his main goal is "building up content areas that will strengthen the service." Prodigy is looking to add more services that will appeal to young adults in particular.
He doesn't anticipate drastic changes in marketing or further downsizing moves for Prodigy, which is believed to be turning monthly profits, finally.
"Reinvention is going to be the challenge for everybody," Mr. Bennett said, adding, "This organization....is poised to be in a growth mode."