(Bloomberg) — Overstock.com Inc. (Nasdaq:OSTK) founder and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Byrne will take an indefinite medical leave of absence, the discount retailer said in a statement Monday, and it’s unclear whether he will return to work.
Byrne has recommended to the board that the company’s general counsel, Mitch Edwards, who has previously worked at BitTorrent Inc. and Skullcandy Inc. (Nasdaq:SKUL), serve as acting CEO, according to the statement. Byrne is leaving due to “stage IV Hepatitis C,” or advanced hepatitis with liver damage. Byrne contracted the illness in China in 1984 while seeking medical attention for a head wound.
“I have finished treatment and think I have it beat but only time will tell,” Byrne said in the statement, adding that he has been battling the diagnosis for over a year. Hepatitis C can lead to long-term health problems including liver cancer. The executive has been battling serious illness for much of his life, surviving a long bout with testicular cancer in his 20s, followed by multiple recurrences and complications.
Byrne, 53, said he’s “intensely proud” of his colleagues for having built a consistently profitable e-tailer. He forecast company pretax earnings in 2016 of $40 million, excluding the “net effect of blockchain efforts and the risk of declared recession.”
While Salt Lake City-based Overstock built its brand as an online retailer, Byrne is perhaps better known for his advocacy of the digital currency bitcoin and the bitcoin blockchain, the software system that underpins it.
Overstock was one of the first major retailers to accept payments in bitcoin and Byrne has been pushing the currency’s uses into the financial sector. He created a subsidiary of Overstock called t0.com using bitcoin technologies to build services that can track financial securities.
Byrne’s goal was to revolutionize the way stocks and bonds are bought and sold. Last year he spearheaded a plan to create the first securities-trading system using the blockchain and in January Overstock said it would issue a digital version of its own stock that could then be traded on an alternative trading system, Pro Securities LLC, which it invested in in 2014.
The firm is completing its regulatory approval process with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Byrne said in an interview in January. In what Byrne has called “a crypto Wall Street,” the trades made through the new system will clear almost instantaneously instead of taking several days, bypassing traditional exchanges like the Nasdaq Stock Market and New York Stock Exchange.
Overstock can now issue as much as $500 million in stock and other securities through a digital system, according to a November filing with the SEC.
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