Every era has its merger; every era has its story. For the New Media age it was an even bigger disaster: the AOL-Time Warner deal.
At the time AOL and Time Warner were considered a matchless combination of old media content and new media distribution. But very soon after the deal was announced things started to go bad—and then from bad to worse. Less than four years after the deal was announced, every significant figure in the deal -save the politically astute Richard Parsons—has left the company, along with scores of others. Nearly a $100 billion was written off and a stock that once traded at $100 now trades near $10.
What happened? Where did it all go wrong? In this deeply sourced and deftly written book, Nina Munk gives us a window into the minds of two of the oddest men to ever run billion-dollar empires. Steve Case, the boy wonder who built AOL one free floppy disk at a time, was searching for a way out of the New Economy. Meanwhile Jerry Levin, who'd made his reputation as a visionary when he put HBO on satellite distribution, was searching for a monumental deal. These two men, more interested in their place in history than their personal fortunes, each thought they were out-smarting the other.
Munk's entry to the growing list of books about the AOL Time Warner merger provides a thorough recap of the debacle, with the author coming to her own conclusion on the causes behind the merger's failure. After more than 100 pages of the obligatory background on AOL and its chairman, Steve Case, and Time Warner and chairman Jerry Levin, Munk begins to make her argument that Case and Levin, who ran their companies with few checks and balances, bear the greatest responsibility for orchestrating a deal that had little chance to succeed. She presses her case by hitting hard on the fact that few Time Warner executives knew about the pending deal until hours before it was announced, and that even fewer executives supported the proposal. That due diligence for the $165-billion merger only took three days and that many of the merged company's top managers sold large chunks of stock (including Case who sold shares worth $100 million) shortly after the deal closed is further proof to Munk that the combination was not well thought out and that many managers had doubts about its success from the very beginning. For readers looking for a quick review of events surrounding the AOL Time Warner merger, Munk's book fits the bill, but for those who are already well versed on the subject, Munk (a contributing editor at Vanity Fair) adds little new information.