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November 16, 2006

AOL CEO Switch: Miller replaced by Falco

Jon Miller was a deeply thoughtful leader. There is no question he'll be missed.

I had resigned from AOL, back in June of this year (no surprise for AOL insiders), for professional as well as personal reasons (which still stand - I'll elucidate in the near future). But I had stayed on in my role because the (then) CEO and the
(then) CTO personally asked me to help through the significant transition immediately ahead - and to keep an open mind about the future through that process. I am/was senior enough, and had been entrusted with enough responsibility, that that seemed more than reasonable.

He certainly taught me, personally, a lot about what it takes to run an organization at scale, through significant transformation - I think people forget how differently the Company operated 3 years ago. For example, when I started we had 300+ developers still working on the upkeep of an aging AOL client and hitting quality targets for our Dial network. Now its a dozen or so, from our
Bangalore development center, no less - and all core development is about embracing the Web.

And more than that, Jon's a professional, in every positive sense of the word - and in culture of personalities and politics, that's refreshing. I appreciate the time I got with him - as well as the growth opportunities he offered me during his tenure.

Although it became clear by the fall that I was not long for AOL, and though I feel I've been able to positively impact the Company's fortunes, this kind of leadership change is a big deal. I hope they know what they're doing... and more importantly, what they're trying to accomplish. This level of turmoil without clear direction seems a little... I dunno, desperate - and, in my view, furthers AOL from the
battle field in which in needs to compete. I hope that's intentional, and that they have a plan (Good luck Randy :))

If I had one complaint of Jon, it would be that he was not able to be involved enough in the day-to-day execution and operations of the Company - AOL would've been better for it. I imagine his responsibilities with Time Warner made that difficult.

You can read more
here. Jason sums up the somber surprise well...

Updated: Some clarification on my status at AOL.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Many of us have been speculating as when this particular shoe was going to drop. The standard 4 year CEO expiration date for Miller was coming up plus he was Don Logan's boy. Bewkes needs to bring in his own guy to fully put his stamp on the turn around.

Miller will get the "thanks" for steering the ship through the last four years of troubled waters, keeping the ship afloat (and huge profits flowing up to TW Corp.) and charting a course new and more bountiful islands. The company will buyout the last two years of his recently signed three year contract.

Three immediate questions will spring to most people's minds: Who is his Randy Flaco? What does this mean for me? Where will Miller go next?

To address the first, it looks like Bewkes is bringing in a very experienced operator. Could it mean Six Sigma for AOL? God know that this company needs much more operational efficiency and focus.

Anonymous said...

'tis a sad season @ AOL. My boss left. My boss's boss [you] is leaving and now the chief. Corporate boards are a strange body -- wasn't it the board that sort of asked Miller to eliminate the COO position a few years back? And now he is accused of being not 'operational enough'. All the best to Randy but you are right we are a step farther from being a software company, and a step closer to being a media company. Good news, bad news, who knows?

p.s. is it just a coincidence that both you and Jason learned the same thing from Miller? how to scale a business/organization! :)

Anonymous said...

I still think people are being entirely too “politically correct” on this one. Yes, Mr. Miller deserves some accolades for helping to navigate AOL after the merger debacle.

However, AOL’s talent pool and leadership is in shambles.

I blame Time Warner and Jon Miller for this—plain and simple.

In the realm of talent and resources the “brain drain” has been consistent through the 4 years, which has actually accelerated in the past year. We are not better off today in this area than we were 4 years ago.

If we were playing basketball, then I’d say we have no bench and the starting line-up consist of 2nd stringers, maybe 3rd. On top of this we now have a new coach, but the coach has never coached in the division.

On leadership and vision I’d say Mr. Miller gets a “D.” IMHO leadership is about foreseeing trends and happenings before it is obvious to others. Time Warner and Jon Miller did not execute well here. If we had started our “transformation” in ’02 versus ’06 I probably would be hailing Mr. Miller, but we didn’t. We kept fiddling with dial-up, the AOL client, and trying to integrate BEA.

Now that we’ve actually “gotten the web” we’ve separated the company along business unit lines and the business heads have all fought, and are fighting, for power and position, which has taken precedence over expertise and qualifications. It’s a real mess. The blame hits Mr. Miller again, although he may not have had an “operational” role in the details. A leader would have insisted on more involvement.

The main highlight(s) of the 4 years are the acquisitions. Clearly, there was positive movement there: advertising.com, etc. This did not change the “core culture” however, so we are worse off today than we were 4 years ago.

It’s good to have a new coach, but I wonder if the new coach knows what he’s gotten into? Good luck to him.

Sree Kotay said...

Hm. That's harsh, but not totally unfair - he's the CEO and the buck stops there.

Not meaning to be politically correct - I have plenty I agree with about your post - but if you wonder where the culture of too little change/too late change comes from; well maybe (just perhaps) its because the commitment of management and its tolerance of risk (from levels well above Mr. Miller) isn't there?

I know from personal conversations with him that there are things he wanted to do, and things he could do, and though he was the CEO, its not of an independent company.

Still - he's the boss, and the ill and good alike I think are rightly at his feet.

Anonymous said...

Jon Miller Deserved Better.

Does anyone remember what a nuthouse AOL was before Miller arrived? Leadership at the Sr. Mgt. Level was a disaster. Remember Barry Shuler? David Colburn? Meyer Berlow?? AOL had no moral compass and every government body that could sue us WAS suing us.

But then Jon came, and he spent an enormous amount of energy cleaning it all up. He implemented a program called SBC (Standards of Business Conduct) to instill integrity in the workplace and make sure it was a safe and comfortable environment for all employees. He built of cadre of volunteer employees that helped implement these guidelines (SBC advisors) of which I was one, and Jon attended our meetings regularly taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to tell us how important the work we were doing was to AOL. And he sincerely meant it – he really cared about employees. That is true leadership.

When I read about the circumstances of his departure I was shocked and saddened. It made me wonder whether the integrity Jon fought so hard to instill at AOL exists at the management layer above him.

If I fault Jon for one thing it was waiting too long to execute the exciting strategy we're implementing now, but that's a cheap shot coming from someone who doesn't have to face the big decisions he was facing daily.

Goodbye Jon and good luck. You've made a tremendous contribution to AOL and we will miss your leadership, integrity and vision.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Miller did deserve better than the abrupt announcement of last week. Yes, he deserves credit for navigating AOL through the tough times after the merger and the ensuing lawsuits.

However, comparing Mr. Miller to unethical leadership of time’s past to make a case that he has done a stellar job is, well, red herring.

The lawsuits were wrapped up in ’04. It’s now ’06 and AOL is not the competitor it could, and should, be.

The constant focus on “out of house” innovation along with perceptions of everything “in house” as commoditization has greatly stifled AOL IMHO.

To think that one will compete with the likes of Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft, with the current “value” placed on talent and qualifications, is delusional.

You’re ending up with nothing more than a “holding company” of disparate, semi-unified businesses that will never reach their full potential because someone didn’t put the day-to-day leadership, talent, and strategy in place to make them “gel.”

Proposal: What if we hire a COO and CTO on the West Coast, migrate most of the Biz and Dev functions to The Valley, and start hiring some fresh talent.

Dulles could stay focused on “some” marketing and design. Also, Dulles could potentially branch out into government contracting and consulting services once we get some “muscle again.” There IS money there.

For those politically minded, and not as interested in fixing the problems, I am not from Mt. View.

Anonymous said...

Jon deserves praise for patching up the leaks in the ship, but every quarter AOL made the numbers came at the expense of future growth.

Lots of the blame for this falls on Logan. To your point, Srey, it was TW brass who ran AOL. Miller was in effect never more than the COO, even if he had the Chairman and CEO titles.

But, Jon should shoulder his share of the blame too. Between all of the internal memos and press releases that talk up our new offerings, few of these initiatives ever took off, and executive were never held accountable for the flops. Sickening stuff.

AIM Pages, In2TV, Singingfish acquisition, the inferior web based email offerings and digital music subscriptions are all examples of this lack of accountability.

That a talent like yourself, would walk want to walk away, speaks of the wake of all of the re-orgs, that drained the talent pool and created the unaccountable culture.

Jon was attacking this through this latest re-org. But, like all of the other re-orgs, this one is moving too slowly and these continuous re-orgs have weakened AOL's stride.

The right strategy is finally in place, and the rising tide is lifting all online ships. But, Falco has a lot to solve.

Hope he is looking for a top-notch CTO and CMO, because isn't goint to find one on the vessel he is captaining now.

Wait, Srey, you would be a stellar CTO, maybe they will give you a call;)

Anonymous said...

Jon deserves praise for patching up the leaks in the ship, but every quarter AOL made the numbers came at the expense of future growth.

Lots of the blame for this falls on Logan. To your point, Srey, it was TW brass who ran AOL. Miller was in effect never more than the COO, even if he had the Chairman and CEO titles.

But, Jon should shoulder his share of the blame too. Between all of the internal memos and press releases that talk up our new offerings, few of these initiatives ever took off, and executive were never held accountable for the flops. Sickening stuff.

AIM Pages, In2TV, Singingfish acquisition, the inferior web based email offerings and digital music subscriptions are all examples of this lack of accountability.

That a talent like yourself, would walk want to walk away, speaks of the wake of all of the re-orgs, that drained the talent pool and created the unaccountable culture.

Jon was attacking this through this latest re-org. But, like all of the other re-orgs, this one is moving too slowly and these continuous re-orgs have weakened AOL's stride.

The right strategy is finally in place, and the rising tide is lifting all online ships. But, Falco has a lot to solve.

Hope he is looking for a top-notch CTO and CMO, because isn't goint to find one on the vessel he is captaining now.

Wait, Srey, you would be a stellar CTO, maybe they will give you a call;)

Anonymous said...

Wow, 300 jobs offshored to India, I am so impressed. Is that the highlight of your three years with AOL? My God.

What do you think is the value injected by Jon into AOL? the lasting legacy? the enduring vocabulary and habit? What was 'his' gene? I can think of what Case and Pittman stood for, Even Ted and Matt Korn, Appelman. I have no idea what Jon stood for.

Face it, if investors' reaction to AOL's change since 08/06 is any indication, it's fair for bosses from NY to ask what took you guys so long? what's next? catching up to that fading star called Yahoo? how inspiring!

We've all learned a lot from last 3-4 years' many experiments, now it's time for us all to move on.

Sree Kotay said...

Yes, Anonymous (the previous), 300 jobs offshored to India is indeed the sum total of my time at AOL. Thank you for your insightful commentary :)

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