America Online's merger with Time Warner not only unites two of the world's most influential companies, but also some of the strongest, and at times most contentious, corporate personalities.
|Steve Case (L), Chairman and CEO of America Online, looks over the shoulder of Gerald Levin, Chairman and CEO of Time Warner Inc.
With everyone striving for a place in the sun, many wonder how they will get along when actually rubbing elbows in the executive suite.
Steve Case, the computer whiz kid who guided AOL through some rocky paths to become the premier online portal, will head the new venture as its
chairman, while Gerald Levin, Time Warner's old-school corporate titan, has day-to-day control of the new company in his role as chief executive officer.
Then there is Ted Turner, who has deferred to Levin since his Turner
Broadcasting Network was gobbled up by Time Warner in 1996. His large stake in the new venture gives him the title of
vice-chairman, a role that should allow the often cantankerous media mogul to spout and rant during board meetings. But his actual role in the company's hierarchy remains unclear.
In the second leadership tier, Richard Parsons, the president of Time Warner, and whiz-kid Robert Pittman, president and CEO of AOL, will be co-chief operating officers. But with a vast number of divisions, it hasn't been settled who will run what.
No doubt it's an impressive leadership roster. But if all organizations are a reflection of one leader, many observers are asking what the repercussions will be when the new AOL Time Warner is up and running.
Some analysts thought the merging of the two corporate cultures could be difficult.
"Especially with egos like that on board," said Aram Sinnriech, an analyst with Jupiter Communications.
A New Corporate Structure
In some ways, the corporate structure looks more like those of Internet
start-ups that are just beginning to be taken seriously, rather than an
established old-line company like Time Warner, said Edward Lawler, a
professor of management and organization at the Marshall School of Business
at the University of Southern California.
Usually, in a traditional company, the CEO is the younger executive, whose
energy and enthusiasm is needed for overseeing day-to-day operations.
Meanwhile, the chairman is usually the older and wiser company veteran,
often an executive nearing retirement. The chairman guides the company�s
larger vision, concentrating on strategy, acquisitions and overall policies. And it is the chairman who guards the company�s mission statement.
But in the case of AOL Time Warner, the
leadership lineup has been switched.
Steve Case, 41, will be take the chairman
title and put himself in charge of policies regarding investments, corporate strategy and direction. Gerald Levin, 60, will, so to speak, sign the
paychecks, make the coffee and turn off the lights at the end of the day.
"It�s hard for me to imagine that would happen," Lawler said. "Levine has
had major strategic responsibility up until now, and I can�t imagine he
would give that up."
At Monday�s news conference, Case looked more like the traditional corporate player, in his blue suit and tie, while Levin sported the tan blazer and
open collar, a sartorial signifier of the new media culture and a
roll-up-your-sleeves kind of boss who takes a hands on approach to running
Case was asked about the large number of strong personalities in the
executive suite - himself, Levin, Turner - and whether there was a
possibility of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
"There's a lot of cooks on stage, but there's a big meal to serve," Case
Levin and Case crossed paths several times over the past year. Both served
on the Global Business Dialogue on E-Commerce, a group set up to discourage
governments from imposing Internet taxes. That group met in Paris in
September, and both men were there.
A month later, they were in China at the Fortune Magazine Global Forum,
which met in Shanghai. That's where they first began to spend significant
time discussing a possible merger, according to published reports.
"They spent a lot of time talking together about their businesses," said one source familiar with the deal. "They really had a meeting of the minds."
The Mouth From the South
But that meeting may not have prepared Case for Turner.
Turner, who revolutionized news with his 24-hour Cable News Network, has played second fiddle to Levin since selling Turner Broadcasting Network to Time Warner.
Turner has a reputation as an iconoclast who is not afraid to speak
his mind. At Monday's news conference, Turner said he was as
enthusiastic and excited about the merger as the first time he
made love to a woman some 41 years ago.
In the past, such forthrightness has gotten him into trouble. Once, he compared his arch-nemesis News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch to Adolph Hitler.
"Like the late Fuhrer, he controls the media for his own personal benefit,"
Turner reportedly had said.
Turner later apologized to the Anti-defamation league, but not to Murdoch, whom he later challenged to a pay-per-view boxing match.
Turner owns some 100,000,000 shares of Time Warner stock, valued at close to $9 billion. Despite his large stake, it's still unclear exactly what his duties at AOL Time Warner will be.
Some have speculated that the "mouth from the south" could make life hard
for the whiz kids at AOL who could find themselves on the same team as a media behemoth.
At Monday�s news conference, Turner brought up the possibility of
conflict in the executive suite, given the large number of powerful
personalities with differing management styles. However, he said such clashes are not likely to happen.
And Levin has tangled with Turner before, when he engineered the relatively
smooth purchase of TBN. Levin�s tested ability
to be both diplomatic and hard-nosed will help
smooth over any rough patches or conflicts at the top of the corporate
ladder, many believe.
The Second Tier
As president of Time Warner, Parsons has worked with Levin and Turner to spur the company's growth.
Before joining the company, Parsons was chairman and chief
executive officer of Dime Bancorp, Inc., one of the largest thrift
institutions in the United States. Before that, he was the managing
partner in a New York law firm.
Pittman, now president and chief operating officer of AOL, may be best known as the programmer who in 1981 created MTV for the
media company Viacom. Under his leadership, MTV Networks grew into
the first profitable basic cable network.
The Associate Press contributed to this report
The New York Post contributed to this report