Diving In Headfirst
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
Taking a break from his efforts to build a new health care and luxury resort business, Steve Case recently went for a swim in the ocean off the Hawaiian islands. It wasn't long before a giant wave came heading toward him. Rather than diving underneath, Casey tried to ride it to shore.
"He jumped on a big wave and got slammed," recalled David Cole, his business partner. "I said to him, 'It looks like wellness boy has decided to add sand to his diet.' "
Case increasingly is throwing himself into unpredictable waters these days, as he attempts a comeback after his fall from grace in the aftermath of the troubled America Online-Time Warner merger. The question is whether things will go smoothly this time around for AOL's co-founder, or whether he will encounter the sort of turbulence that followed the mega-deal he now describes as disappointing.
The return of Case, a self-described "serial entrepreneur," to the business scene marks the beginning of the next phase of his career, following two decades at AOL. He said he enjoyed his first 10 years at AOL, when he was more hands-on and the company was smaller, much more than the second 10 years at the helm of a large enterprise that needed to be managed.
Case has a clear strategy this time around. He wants to buy early-stage, consumer-oriented businesses that he can shape, develop and turn into profitable engines of growth. Already he has purchased control of several firms in the resort and spa industry and partnered with existing business owners, who retain a minority stake.
He calls his newly established holding company Revolution LLC.
"This is my thing. This is what I do. Maybe I'll go to 'Entrepreneurs Anonymous' someday, but right now I'm doing what I love and working harder and having more fun than at anytime in the past five to 10 years," said Case, casually dressed in green slacks, a short-sleeved shirt and loafers.
In an interview at the firm's glass-enclosed offices in downtown D.C., Case said he spends much of his time traveling to look at potential business or real estate acquisitions. No matter where he is, Case sends his small cadre of colleagues dozens of e-mails, often keeping them up late into the night responding to his flurry of questions, much the same way he used to do at AOL.
No detail at Revolution appears too small for his attention. He wrote the copy on the company's Web site himself. "I wanted to make sure it reflected my perspective and my voice," Case said. And he spent a month going back and forth with an outside firm that produced dozens of different designs of Revolution's logo before he signed off.
"The name said a lot, so we wanted to be conservative, mainstream, on the logo itself," he said. "The logo is a big deal."
Case hopes the Revolution name and logo eventually can be spread across his various business holdings, creating additional value.
In the meantime, the 45-year-old entrepreneur said he is betting more than $500 million of his own money that he will be able to transform the way consumers are treated in the health care and hospitality industries, a feat that has eluded many others before him. The Revolution team includes Donn Davis, a former top lieutenant at America Online; a pair of former Time Warner acquisitions specialists; and Ron Klain, Revolution's general counsel.