November 12, 2002 8:26 AM PST

Top America Online exec to depart

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James de Castro will resign as president of America Online's interactive services division, the company said Tuesday.

De Castro, who joined AOL in April, will leave the company at the end of the month to "seek new opportunities," the company said. De Castro's responsibilities, which included running the flagship AOL service, will shift to Ted Leonsis, the veteran AOL executive who serves as the online company's vice chairman.

A veteran of the radio industry, De Castro was tapped by former AOL Time Warner chief operating officer Bob Pittman to run the AOL service. However, de Castro's future at AOL became questionable after Pittman, who was given the task of turning around the online division, resigned in July, prompting AOL Time Warner to appoint former USA Interactive executive Jonathan Miller as the division's chief executive.

De Castro most recently oversaw the October launch of AOL 8.0. But according to his prepared statement, De Castro's ambitions may have been higher than simply running a product.

"With the completion of that launch, Jon Miller's arrival and the restructuring of the management team, however, I'm now looking for an opportunity to run a company," he said in a statement.

De Castro's departure is also significant because it clears the way for Leonsis' official return to AOL. For the past few years, Leonsis has been on the sidelines, busy with his ownership stakes in professional sports teams such as the Washington Capitols hockey team and the Washington Wizards basketball team.

Leonsis served as president of AOL in the mid-1990s but was sidelined into a different role when Pittman became president in 1996. During the Internet boom years, Leonsis oversaw the development of AOL's side businesses such as its ICQ instant messaging client.

AOL is the largest Internet service with 35.3 million subscribers, but rivals Microsoft and Yahoo have been closing that lead by luring broadband-hungry AOL users to their own high-speed services, according to Forrester Research.


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