Steve Case

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By any criteria, Steve Case qualifies as a veteran of the fledgling Internet industry. In 1985, Mr. Case, at age 26, founded what was destined to become the No. 1 Internet service provider, America Online.

The Dulles, Va.-based company went public in 1992 with 250 employees and $30 million in annual revenue; last year, it employed 12,000 and reported more than $4.7 billion in revenue. In early April, the company's market capitalization approached $140 billion.

This year, AOL surprised the world with its unprecedented move to acquire old-media stalwart Time Warner in a deal valued at $184 billion. When the deal closes later this year, the combined company, AOL Time Warner, will have estimated revenue of more than $30 billion and an extensive network of online, print, TV and entertainment properties.

AOL's rise to the top demanded the diligence and vision of Mr. Case, chairman-CEO of AOL and future chairman of AOL Time Warner. It's evident when talking with this Hawaii native and Williams College political science major that, in his mind, there simply is no alternative to the Internet's -- and AOL's -- future ubiquity.

"We are moving to a more connected society, and people are starting to change how they buy products and how they are entertained," Mr. Case says. "The future is more about the PC and the TV and the telephone all connected in a seamless way."

Mr. Case says he believes AOL's pending acquisition of Time Warner will give the combined company the ability to lead development of this seamless connectivity "to build bridges among those three communication vehicles."

He expects the lines between other businesses to blur in the future, too. The communications, entertainment, Internet, financial services and media industries will become increasingly integrated, and deals like the AOL-Time Warner merger will no longer be unusual or controversial, he adds.

Such integration will require that marketers reach consumers "in their terms," Mr. Case says. "There will be more of a requirement for a more segmented approach to media. The evolution from general to more personal [marketing] will continue."

To keep AOL relevant in the future, Mr. Case says the company will "stay close to consumers." So far, he's achieved this through partnerships with other companies and by hiring "the right people. But nothing's as important as getting feedback from consumers," he says.

AOL's success to date has been based on "creating a service that's easy to use and affordable," Mr. Case adds.

The company has grown globally, now offering AOL and CompuServe services in 15 countries, and has expanded through offerings that include AOL.com, CompuServe, Digital City, AOL MovieFone, Netscape and ICQ . "But," says Mr. Case, "it ultimately comes down to creating an experience that people love and want to tell their friends about."

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