In retrospect, the $160 billion AOL/Time Warner merger is widely viewed as a total failure.
But in a new interview with Backchannel’s Steven Levy, AOL co-founder and former CEO Steve Case says that at least one big-shot thought it was the right call: Donald Trump, New York businessman and Republican presidential campaign frontrunner.
“I’ve met [Trump] four or five times. He has told me several times that while some are critical of the AOL/Time Warner merger, he — as Mr. Art of the Deal — thought it made great sense. At least on the AOL side of the equation,” Case told Backchannel.
When the deal went down in 2000, right at the tail-end of the dot-com bubble, it was supposed to turn the combined AOL Time Warner into an internet-connected media powerhouse. But the two companies struggled to fully integrate, and the company quickly shed executives and value amid the larger market decline.
In 2003, “AOL Time Warner” shortened its name to just “Time Warner.” In 2009, Time Warner launched AOL off as a separate company with a $2.5 billion valuation and tried to put the deal behind it. The spun-off AOL eventually found its way under CEO Tim Armstrong, and successfully sold itself to Verizon for $4.4 billion in 2015.
Case himself landed on his feet, and is now the head of influential venture capital firm Revolution.
He’s currently promoting his first book, “The Third Wave,” which urges the next generation of startups to work with government agencies and take a long view, rather than try to go around them in a quest for lightning-strike success.
Case tells Backchannel:
I hope entrepreneurs don’t take away the lesson that to be successful in the third wave, you should ignore the laws and almost flaunt your disdain for government, because I don’t think that’s a winning strategy.
For the same reason, I think an unfortunate byproduct of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs book is there are a lot of people (entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs), that said in order to be successful you have to be a jerk. I worked with Steve, and I didn’t consider him a jerk.
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.