Case, Leonsis Make AOL Appearance

New CEO Tim Armstrong hopes to turn around AOL's Internet unit.
New CEO Tim Armstrong hopes to turn around AOL's Internet unit. (Henny Ray Abrams - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AOL employees got a surprise visit yesterday when long-gone executives Steve Case and Ted Leonsis turned up at a companywide meeting on the Dulles campus to greet the dial-up and content provider's incoming chief and bolster a staff recently hit by layoffs and turnover.

Case and Leonsis, nearly synonymous with the AOL brand, joined new chief executive and ex-Google executive Tim Armstrong at the company's former headquarters. (AOL now has its main office in New York.)

The three tried to rouse the spirits of a workforce that has seen tremendous upheaval in the past few weeks alone. Last Tuesday, the company executed a round of layoffs, shedding up to 10 percent of its workforce. Two days later, AOL parent company Time Warner announced that it would replace chairman and chief executive Randy Falco with Armstrong, who until recently served as the head of Google's advertising division for North America and Latin America.

Armstrong spoke of being "passionate" about his opportunity to turn AOL around. The company's annual revenue fell 20 percent, to $4.2 billion, last year.

Case, who is now chairman and chief executive of an investment firm called Revolution, admitted that many onlookers aren't optimistic about AOL's outlook, but said it is hardly a first for the company he co-founded.

"The history of AOL has always been recognizing that there is a possibility even when everybody else was saying there wasn't," Case said. "Most people think AOL's best days are behind it," he said, "[but] the assets of this company are still phenomenal."

Leonsis, who is now better known as the owner of the Washington Capitals, kept things timely by making a comparison to St. Patrick.

St. Patrick was a missionary who had been sentenced to death three times and avoided it each time. Today's AOL, he said, needs to be like that lucky fellow and observe its own "trinity" of products, customers and people.

"When we remain true to the heritage and the founding ethos of this company, we've . . . grown and become really one of the most important, if not the most important, consumer brands on the Internet," he said.

Armstrong said he left Google on good terms with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. "I hope that we will continue the AOL-Google partnership for a long period of time," he said.

AOL, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and News Corp. have been engaged in on-again, off-again discussions of varying degree over the past two years, many of which have focused on AOL's advertising business and where it would make the best fit and how much it's worth.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company