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 Recent Stories
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Merger Unites Strong, and Sometimes Contentious, Corporate Players
By David Armstrong   Fox Market Wire
NEW YORK — 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.


Mike Segar/Reuters
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 the company.

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 countered.

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


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