Earlier this week, after getting my reality television fix thanks to NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” (Those brothers from Boston had me crying like a baby. Grown men crying get me every time.), I checked out “Charlie Rose” on PBS. His guest for the evening was my favorite American maverick, forever the king of the badasses, former media mogul and one of cable television’s founding fathers, Ted Turner.
I love listening to Turner, with his southern twang, talk about cable…Oh hell, I love to hear him talk about anything. He is so thoroughly refreshing — someone who acts like a grown-ass man. He is man, who in his post Time Warner years, has decided to take on new challenges like opening a chain of restaurants and working with the United Nations and others to tackle such monumental global challenges as nuclear disarmament, population control and climate change.
What I most like about Turner is his ability to admit his mistakes. A few times during the interview when asked about Time Warner, he admitted that selling the company was a mistake for he thought that he could still retain his position of power as vice chairman regardless of any challenges, acquisitions or mergers that might occur. When the opportunity to merge with AOL came along, he co-signed on the deal much to his eternal regret.
The merger proved to be the beginning of a possible end for the former media giants now one. Turner, is now gone and with him his passion, leadership and, with the exception of this one deal, astute business acumen. And AOL, who has hemorrhaged subscribers and laid off hundreds of employees, no longer the innovative firebrand, is falling hopelessly behind in the race for hearts, minds, eyeballs and mouse clicks.
In his Fast Company article, “Dead Man Walking”, writer David Case delineates AOL current state of affairs under its newest chief executive, Randy Falco, as well as looks at how things, once so good, turned out to be so bad for subscribers, shareholders and employees.
It has been said that without a vision, the people will perish. The same can be said of companies. About AOL’s loss of direction, Case (who is not related to AOL founder Steve Case) wrote:
At the simplest level, AOL’s troubles in the past couple of years are the story of a business without a vision and therefore without guiding principles to clarify which risks are worth taking — and which are worth sticking to. Back in its heyday, AOL’s mission statement hung on a plaque in the lobby in Dulles, in shiny silver lettering that read, to build a global medium as central to people’s lives as the telephone or television… and even more valuable. By 2000, that vision had been accomplished, and no next-stage aspiration had risen to replace it. AOL did finally convene a committee to write a new mission statement in 2006. They came up with this gem: “To serve the world’s most engaged community.” It is a creed that could just as well suit a Hardee’s.
A former freelancer for one of AOL’s websites, I can affirm Case’s view of the “Matrix”, the name employees give to the company’s “organizational structure”. AOL’s payroll department seemed to change pay codes daily often never informing the web producers/editors. As a result, payments expected by a certain date were never received and seemingly endless phone calls/emails were exchanged to find out the cause of the delay. I will say no more because it’s not good to speak ill of the dead, or, in this case, dying.
But such problems are small in comparison the challenges the company faces in the world of Web 2.0 where somewhere, someone is creating the next new thing. And if the past is any indication, AOL will not be a part of it.