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FreeMarkets CFO going to 'Major Leagues'

| Friday, Oct. 10, 2003

Dude, she's going to Dell!

That was the reaction of Karen Kovatch, director of corporate communications for FreeMarkets Inc., when she learned Thursday that Chief Financial Officer Joan Hooper planned to leave the company she helped take public four years ago to become vice president of finance at computer giant Dell Inc.

"It's like being in AAA and being called up to the Major Leagues," Kovatch said. "It's a great thing a company like that came looking for talent here in Pittsburgh."

Hooper, 45, one of the region's top female executives, handled the financial, legal, human resources and purchasing functions at FreeMarkets since September 1999, shortly before its wild initial public offering that saw shares skyrocket to $360, before coming back to Earth.

She leaves a company with annual revenues yet to reach $1 billion for one with revenues of nearly $40 billion and projected to reach $60 billion over the next five years. She will report to Dell's Chief Financial Officer, James M. Schneider.

"I get a lot of head-hunter calls and usually don't return them. When they told me Dell, I had to look at that one," she said.

Hooper said she is proud of helping to form the foundation for FreeMarkets to grow and establish itself as the industry leader in global supply management. "I think we have a good team in place, and that's going to help make the transition smooth."

She is excited about working for Michael Dell, 38, whom she met briefly during her interview in Austin.

"He's a visionary leader you would want to follow up the hill," she said. "He has built a model that combines direct selling with a world class supply chain and low-cost structure. After 20 years, he is still passionate about what he's doing."

Hooper, raised in Chicago, came to Pittsburgh from AT&T, where she worked for 20 years. She sold nearly 40,000 shares of FreeMarkets stock in three transactions last month, which Kovatch said was unrelated to her decision to leave the company.

FreeMarkets' top executive echelon has seen several changes this year. In January, chairman and founder Glen Meakem relinquished the chief executive position to David McCormick. Then the company hired Sarah Pfaff as director of a new consulting business. Last month, Chief Operating Officer David Becker left to form a venture capital concern from his Sewickley home.

"I think Joan got a good opportunity at Dell, and, although she will be missed, we do not expect her departure to have a direct impact on the company," said Brad Whitt, a securities analyst who covers FreeMarkets for Southwest Securities.

FreeMarkets has retained an executive search firm to find a successor, a process Kovatch said could take 3 to 6 months. In the meantime, Vice President and Controller Sean Rollman will assume her financial duties.

Deborah Deasy contributed to this story.

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