By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Plenty of people with money to invest don't seem to think it's so far-fetched.
And so they've held on for a wild financial ride over the past few years as this futuristic scenario has been peddled not by one of the country's major telecom players but by an obscure South Florida company.
Although local media haven't taken note, GlobeTel's fluctuating fortunes have made for dramatic reading in the financial press, which has alternately pumped up the company's blimp enterprise and deflated it.
After a roller-coaster 2005 and 2006, GlobeTel is currently battered and bruised, recovering from the same blunder that brought down Napoleon and Adolf Hitler an unwise Russian gambit. A futile attempt to invade Russia's telecom market fueled months of scathing exposés from financial writers at the Motley Fool and the New York Post. Ultimately, GlobeTel's penny stock was delisted from the American Stock Exchange last summer and now trades over the counter at about 40 cents per share. In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating GlobeTel's "accounting practices."
But the dream has still not lost its power. Fervent investors continue to burn up Internet forums with defiant defenses of the company they love, even after GlobeTel's stock lost about 90 percent of its value following the Russian debacle, and even though no GlobeTel blimp has floated anywhere near the stratosphere, and even though the company has invested only modest amounts of cash in actual research and development, and even as other, better-known companies like Lockheed Martin spend many more millions on their own blimp dreams.
"I understand what it looks like," says GlobeTel's in-house lawyer, Jonathan Leinwand. "It looks like just another little South Florida scam company."
Well, you said it, Jonathan. But what is a telecom player with these kinds of dreams doing in Pembroke Pines? And could we get a look at a blim er stratellite? And can you do something about our cell phone bill?
The first bad sign: GlobeTel, a communications company, never answers its phone.
The only way to talk to anyone at the company about its plans to revolutionize the world is to make the trek to the best office building Pembroke Pines has to offer.
We know that it's the best cubicle farm in town because the real-estate agents trying to lease empty portions of the building at 9050 Pines Blvd. advertise the Pembroke Pines Professional Center as "Pembroke Pines' most prestigious office building." The selling points: "A four-story atrium lobby, excellent tri-county access halfway between Florida Turnpike and I-75, exceptional building signage opportunities, ample no-cost parking just minutes from many restaurants and retail stores."
Not to mention the heavy aroma of frying chicken wings wafting over from the Hooters just down the street.
But apparently leasing out space to share with GlobeTel has been a hard sell. Jumbo "space available" signs are hammered into the grass out in front of the beige cement building. Current tenants in the four-story suburban bunker include medical labs, a chapter of the Better Business Bureau, a temporary-staffing agency, and an accounting firm.
Just past a funeral services company on the second floor is the door to GlobeTel.
The second bad omen: You ring the bell, walk in, and the receptionist, Jasmine, asks: "Are you another shareholder?"
Uh, why do you ask? The local ones stop by frequently, she says. Some are angry, some have questions, and others are suing.
An avalanche of white office paper stuffed into pressed-wood bookshelves looks like it's about to spill out onto poor Jasmine, who keeps a watchful eye on the door. A few minutes later, Leinwand, GlobeTel's lawyer, emerges, nearly bumping into a copier that is crammed too close to the black vinyl couch and love seat cornered into the front office. Beyond the faux leather seating, you can make out about a dozen or so employees working in cubes and small offices. Leinwand promises to talk later, but now he has to run to a meeting with the board of directors.
Meanwhile, the phone keeps ringing and rolling straight into voice-mail.
GlobeTel executives have already shuttered a suite they had been renting on the first floor, and now it looks as if the company will be moving out of its second-floor space too.
In fact, GlobeTel plans to ditch the Pembroke Pines location entirely. It's looking for classy digs in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
"It's a high-tech company, and it needs to look a bit more high-tech," CEO Peter Khoury says when he gets a chance to sit and talk.
Khoury is of average height. He has a full head of brown, wavy hair; he wears a blue blazer and khakis for a CEO, he's not slick but more like a rumpled professor. A native Australian, he has a faded accent that's a little hard to place, but currently he lives in London and jets to Broward County for a few days at a time.
He says he's running late but then sits and talks for more than an hour. His phone never stops ringing the entire time once he powers down his cell, his office line starts to make noise. Meanwhile, his corner office reflects someone on the go. No photos adorn the walls. There are no papers anywhere. He's an on-the-road type of guy, trying to grow the business, he says.