NEW YORK – There will likely be cheers in many of the halls of AOL Time Warner (AOL)’s offices today.
Steve Case’s decision to step down as chairman couldn’t come soon enough for employees, who blame him for the spectacular failure of the merger. Especially within the Time Warner businesses, Case is reviled. And when Gerald Levin left last year - and the business continued to decline, and the value of employees’ stock holdings evaporated - their wrath toward Case only grew.
This month is the three-year anniversary of the announcement of the merger - CNBC commemorated it with a documentary called The Big Heist.
Based on recent stock prices, the deal has wiped out nearly $100 billion of shareholder wealth, although Case has walked away with roughly $160 million from selling stock after the merger.
In his statement, Case said the decision to step down was his. But he had to know that his time was up. He acknowledged pressure from shareholders, saying they "continue to focus their disappointment with the company’s postmerger performance on me personally."
The calls for his ouster were growing louder, and clearly he would not have survived 2003 as chairman. Part of the merger agreement, which stipulated the board needs 11 of 14 votes to remove him, expires this year.
With Case out, the next question becomes: Who will replace him? Dick Parsons, who became CEO last year, is a likely candidate, despite the urging from corporate governance experts that companies separate the roles of chairman and CEO.
"In all likelihood, Parsons would have the dual role," one AOL Time Warner investor said last night. "But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Ted Turner."
Turner, who was pushed aside after the merger, has lately taken a more prominent role at the company and is said to have pushed hard for Case to leave.
The company reports its quarterly earnings on Jan. 29 and is likely to have more bad news for investors. It has already promised that another multibillion-dollar write-off is coming