Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jerry Levin-- Another Fake Apology


A few days ago, January 4, there was a marking of the 10th anniversary of the TimeWarner merger with AOL. I ran a division of the company at the time, Reprise Records, and I've written about the merger and the aftermath several times here at DWT. When I was president of Reprise, my boss was the chairman of Warner Bros Records. His boss was the chairman of the Warner Music Group and his boss was Jerry Levin. The times I interacted with Levin were pleasant enough. As you can see from the Squawk Box video below, he's a thoughtful, sensitive guy. He was easily suckered by predatory huckster Steve Case. I was only in one meeting with Case and one would have had to be deaf and dumb to miss what he was all about; I walked out of the meeting, aghast, and told my boss I was leaving the company. He said he was too and asked me to stick it out with him for a few more months. Last week, on the 10th anniversary of the merger that is widely considered the worst business deal in contemporary history, it was Levin, with the vicious predator sitting and watching passively, who stepped up to the plate and took some kind of phony responsibility and made the lamest apology for the lamest merger imaginable.

"I was the CEO; I was in charge. I'm really very sorry about the pain and suffering and loss that were caused. I take responsibility," he said. "It wasn't the Board [that isn't true]; it wasn't my colleagues at TimeWarner [also untrue]; it wasn't the bankers and lawyers-- there were a lot of them-- [sure, sure]; it was not Steve Case, who was a brilliant, young digital entrepreneur. It was just taking this magnificent concept and not being able to meld it into..." blah, blah, blah.

He's still sold on all the bullshit about Case. This "brilliant young digital entrepreneur" had a "magnificent concept" all right-- and it worked exactly how it was meant to work. Billions of shareholder dollars and corporate value went directly into Case's and his cronies' pockets (including into Levin's). His apology would be more meaningful if it meant something substantive-- like... oh, I don't know... say $50 million donated to a public trust for the shareholders who were fleeced and the employees whose careers and lives were ruined. Instead he said he hopes "business schools will teach values." Too late, that, for these two self-proclaimed Giants of Industry.

Yesterday's review of this farce by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld in the NY Times was as full of shit-- at least in terms of Levin-- as the apologia itself.
[T]his first business day of the new decade opened with a confession and apology that was quite different from the standard choreographed fare of a celebrity cornered over sexual misconduct or a rogue chief executive who plundered shareholder wealth. Instead, this acknowledgment of failure was from a respected business leader [says who?] who stepped back into the public spotlight to voluntarily assume responsibility for bad professional judgment.

You want to know what that merger and these players were really all about? Read Nina Monk's book, Fools Rush In: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner. Levin was a naive sucker and Case was a crook and thug.

UPDATE: One Third Of All AOL Employees Being Fired

I guess Levin's apology was a preemptive strike.

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