In your speech today, you talked a lot about content, saying that it is
not an online service's most valuable asset. In other words, you were
saying it is no longer king. That was pretty surprising, coming from an AOL
I don't think content in this business is what it is in the television
business. At AOL, we're giving people convenience in a box. People don't
need to know more about the news or more about their computer; they don't
need more places to talk to people. What they need are more convenient
activities. And what's winning here is content that is more convenient.
What we're about is [this]: if I like to go out to bars just to
talk to people and drink a couple of beers, I [could also] go to a
chat room. That's more convenient than going out to the bar. If I'm a kid
and I've got to do a term paper, instead of going to the library I go
search the Internet for my subject. That's a lot more convenient. If I've
got to book a trip next week somewhere, instead of calling my travel agent
and trading phone calls for an hour or a day or two days, I now just book
it myself. It's a lot more convenient.
Everything we're doing is a more convenient version of what's out there. We
pull it all together and it's one-stop shopping for convenience. Now, do
you need content for that? Of course you do. But people aren't coming here
because of the content. They got the content in most cases somewhere else
in another form.
They're coming here because the content is more convenient in this format
and in this usage. And so our basic selling proposition of AOL is
convenience in a box.
What happens when someone else develops convenience in a box that's
equal to America Online or better?
Then the problem is they have to get a better brand, at least as good a
On a more personal note, can you talk about some of your personal
It's hard to separate them from the company's goals because I come in to do
a mission. I have a life beyond AOL. I have a group of friends who don't
really know what I do for a living and don't care. So that's my balance in
the world. I have a son that I'm very close to and love very much.
When I come into a company, my goal is really to figure out what the
company needs to do and help achieve that. In any company I'm in, it's
about people, the product, and the quality of the product. At our place,
it's member services, member quality. If I'm in the theme park business,
it's our visitor experience. At the end of the day, that's sort of the root
of it. If you make people happy, you'll have a successful product. They
will say good things about you and you'll win over time.
You've got a lot of successes under your belt. Do you have any failures,
anything that didn't work out well?
I think every success also has embedded failures. What you have to do is
learn from your mistakes and you keep plowing through. I worked for this
wonderful fellow named Steve Ross, who was the founder of Warner
Communications. He started two funeral homes with his father-in-law and
turned [that] into Warner Communications. [He was] a great
Steve used to say, "At Warner Communications, you'll never be fired for
making a mistake. At Warner Communications, you'll be fired for not
making a mistake, because if you're not making a mistake, it tells me
you're not trying anything new and the product we've given you to manage is
going to wither away."
So I think within every success I've had there have been plenty of
failures. At AOL we've got plenty of failures, but the overall effect is
success. I think what we don't want to do is stop with the failures, but we
want to say, "That's part of the learning experience, part of getting
ahead. Let's learn from it, let's keep going."
How will you judge your success at AOL? It sounds like your M.O. is to
build a place and leave. Does that mean that when you leave, AOL will be
Every place I've left has been set when I left. When I go into a place, I
try to develop a growth strategy. I try and turn that into an operating
plan and then build a culture that perpetuates that strategy. If I do those
things successfully, I don't have to be there anymore. I've done my job.
Now, sometimes it's fun to be there and sometimes I stay.
But that's the real challenge of, I think, any CEO in a high-growth
business. That's really what I'm focused on. There's an enormous amount of
manpower development around that culture. Part of building the culture is
manning the plan, putting the right people in the right jobs to make that
plan turn into reality, and working with them on achieving it. By the way,
I always find that if you help other people achieve their goals, they'll
help you achieve a bigger goal.