Correction to This Article
A Sept. 15 Business article about Ted Leonsis incorrectly said that Time Warner Inc. acquired AOL in 2001. AOL acquired Time Warner.

Leonsis Pulls Away From Helm of AOL

(Courtesy Of Ted Leonsis)
By Sara Kehaulani Goo and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 15, 2006

Ted Leonsis, a self-made technology entrepreneur who helped turn AOL into a multibillion-dollar business and later helped guide it through a recovery from the dot-com bust, said yesterday that he plans to step down at the end of the year from his day-to-day responsibilities at the company to focus on his sports, entertainment and philanthropic interests.

Leonsis, AOL's vice chairman, said he made the decision after conducting a "personal gut check." Over the past several years, he has juggled a number of growing commitments to his sports teams and movie projects as AOL was trying to overhaul its business strategy.

Leonsis, 50, is majority owner of the Washington Capitals, the area's professional hockey team, and a minority owner in the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards. His holding company owns the Washington Mystics, the women's professional basketball team. Recently, he funded a documentary film project.

"I'm still going to have a really loud voice" in AOL, Leonsis said.

He is to maintain an office at the company's Dulles headquarters and remain vice chairman, but he will relinquish his title as president of the company's audience group, serving as more of a strategist.

"I'm still going to come in every day and if I want to leave at 5:30 to watch the drop of the puck, I will do that without guilt," he said. "I think I've earned that right."

In his current role, Leonsis oversees 2,500 employees, and AOL's effort to generate ad sales and develop new products such as music videos, TV shows and the Netscape Web site.

Next week, the company plans to announce some slight corporate reshuffling among the handful of managers who report to Leonsis, including Mike Kelly, head of ad sales; Jim Bankoff, head of programming; and Kevin Conroy, who heads and other Web properties.

Leonsis was one of AOL's earliest leaders who, along with Steve Case and Jim Kimsey, built a business that helped Americans log onto the Internet, a utility they envisioned would become as integral to people's lives as the telephone and television.

In recent years, however, AOL has struggled as its revenue model, which relied on member subscriptions, became outdated. Many AOL members fled as they upgraded to high-speed Internet services and discovered they could get many of the same features, such as e-mail, free from competitors such as Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

AOL chief executive Jonathan Miller said Leonsis played a key role in articulating a need for change at the company when it became clear that the old model was not working.

"Ted Leonsis helped build AOL, not once, but twice," he said. "He wanted us to get to that place. . . . We always discussed when we got to that place, he had a desire to not be in the day-to-day operation, but he would get us across the river."

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