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Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of Aol Time Warner


Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of Aol Time Warner

The corporate merger between Time-Warner and America Online was the
biggest in U.S. history. In STEALING TIME Alec Klein, the
Washington Post reporter who broke the story of AOL's faulty
accounting practices, has traced the story of the merger from the
backgrounds of both companies --- from the optimism of the
bargaining period to the inevitable fallout. Along the way, he
shows us the distinct personalities involved and gives us one of
the best tales of hubris since the dramas of the ancient

Both America Online and Time-Warner were extremely successful
companies in their own rights: Time-Warner had a longstanding
reputation of excellence in the field of traditional media
(publishing, film, etc.), while America Online was at the vanguard
of the new and exciting Internet industries. "Synergy" was a word
both sides threw around a lot; the hope was that Time-Warner, with
its vast library of previous work, would contribute content to
America Online's new medium and enormous audience.

What happened? How could a partnership between two such
high-performing companies fail in such a spectacular manner?
Character and greed were largely responsible. The companies had
vastly different corporate personalities and methods of operation:
Time-Warner was a more polite, more corporate environment, staid
and established; the looser, brasher, more arrogant AOLers never
meshed very well with them. In addition, Time-Warner had already
survived one rocky merger; the challenges of another merger should
have been apparent to them.

There was also the matter of AOL's finances; their projections were
horrendously inflated, they went to incredible lengths to
camouflage their shortfalls, and they were less than honest about
this state of affairs while the merger with Time-Warner was in
progress. These business practices had wide repercussions: by
forcing exclusive and very expensive arrangements with dot-com
companies for the privilege of a partnership with AOL, the Internet
giant drove some dot-coms out of business and financially crippled
the rest, an important factor in the crash of the dot-com industry
that AOL originally helped to establish.

The characters of the CEOs and key board members were also
significant elements of the merger's failure. Alec Klein provides
detailed portraits of Steve Case, the America Online CEO, and of
Jerry Levin, the head of Time-Warner. They had all the wrong things
in common: arrogance, greed, aloofness, poor social skills, and an
unshakable faith in getting their own way.

Despite their huge losses and the embarrassment of masterminding
the biggest business disaster in the modern world, it is impossible
to feel sorry for these men. Their difficulties pale in comparison
to those of their lowly employees, whose retirement funds and
investments vaporized when the stock plummeted, and the party was

Reviewed by Colleen Quinn ( on January 23, 2011

Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of Aol Time Warner
by Alec Klein

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Business, Economics, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743247868
  • ISBN-13: 9780743247863