Steve Case b. 1958
Stephen McConnell “Steve” Case (born August 21, 1958) is an American businessman best known as the former chief executive officer and chairman of America Online (AOL). Since his retirement as chairman of AOL Time Warner in 2003, he has gone on to build a variety of new businesses through his investment company Revolution. In addition, he serves as chair of the Case Foundation run by his wife Jean Case. In early 2011, he was selected by President Barack Obama to serve as Chairman of the Startup America Partnership and named to the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Steve Case is also a frequent guest on CNBC’s Squawk Box and appeared on August 24, 2011 to discuss his initiatives to spur high growth entrepreneurship and job creation on behalf of the Startup America Partnership and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Case was born and grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Carol (Holmes) and Daniel Hebard Case. He graduated from the private Punahou School (Class of 1976) and attended Central Union Church.
Case graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1980 with a degree in political science. For the next two years he worked as an assistant brands manager at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1982 he joined Pizza Hut Inc. in Wichita, Kansas, serving as manager of new pizza marketing.
In January 1983, his older brother Dan, an investment banker, introduced him to Bill von Meister, CEO of Control Video Corporation. The company was marketing a service called Game Line for the Atari 2600 video game console that allowed users to download games via a phone line and modem. After that meeting, von Meister hired Case as a marketing consultant. Later that year, the company nearly went bankrupt and one of its investors, Frank Caufield, had his friend Jim Kimsey brought in as a manufacturing consultant. Case later joined the company as a full-time marketing employee.
In 1985 Quantum Computer Services, an online services company was founded by Jim Kimsey from the remnants of Control Video. Kimsey became CEO of the newly renamed Quantum Computer Services and hired Case as vice president of marketing. In 1987 he promoted him again to executive vice president. Kimsey groomed Case to become chairman and CEO when Kimsey retired, and the transition formally took place in 1991 (CEO) and 1995 (chairman).
As part of the changes that gave birth to Quantum, Case changed the company’s strategy, creating an online service called Quantum Link (Q-Link for short) for the Commodore 64 in 1985 with programmer (and AOL co-founder) Marc Seriff. In 1988, Quantum began offering the Apple Link online service for Apple and PC-Link for IBM compatible computers. In 1991 he changed the company name to America Online and merged the Apple and PC services under the AOL name; the new service reached 1 million subscribers by 1994, and Q-Link was terminated October 21 of that year.
AOL pioneered the concept of social media, as its focus from day one was on communication features such as chartrooms, instant messaging and forums. Case believed that the “killer app” was community — people interacting with each other — and that was the driver of much of AOL’s early success. By contrast, competitive services of the time such as Prodigy funded by IBM and Sears, focused on shopping and CompuServe focused on being an information utility. AOL’s strategy was to make online services available and accessible to the mass market by making them affordable, easy to use, useful and fun. At a time when competing services like CompuServe were charging for each minute of access (which varied based on modem speeds and added extra charges for premium services), beginning in 1996, AOL priced its service at $19.95 per month of unlimited use of basic tier services. Within three years, AOL’s user base grew to 10 million, ultimately reaching 26.7 million subscribers at its peak in 2002.
Among many initiatives in the early years of AOL, Case personally championed many innovative online interactive titles and games, including graphical chat environments Habitat (1986) and Club Caribe (1989), the first online interactive fiction series Quantum Link Serial by Tracy Reed (1988), Quantum Space, the first fully automated Play by email game (1989), and the original Dungeons & Dragons title Never winter Nights, the first Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) to depict the adventure with graphics instead of text (1991).
After a decade of quick growth, AOL merged with media giant Time Warner in 2001, creating one of the world’s largest media, entertainment and communications companies. The $164 billion acquisition was completed in January 2001 but quickly ran into trouble as part of the dot-com recession, compounded by accounting scandals. Case announced his resignation as chairman in January 2003, although he remained on the company’s board of directors for almost three more years.
The failure of the AOL-Time Warner merger is the subject of a book by Nina Munk entitled Fools Rush In: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner (2005). A photo of Case and Time Warner’s Jerry Levin embracing at the announcement of the merger appears on the cover.
In 2005, Case wrote in The Washington Post that “It’s now my view that it would be best to ‘undo’ the merger by splitting Time Warner into several independent companies and allowing AOL to set off on its own path.”
Laura Bush announces a $60 million partnership between the U.S. Government and the Case Foundation at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York on September 20, 2006. With her, from left, are: Raymond Chambers, Chairman, MCJ and Amelier Foundations; former President Bill Clinton; and Jean Case and Steve Case.
Case resigned from the Time-Warner board of directors in October 2005, to spend more time working on Revolution LLC, a holding company he founded in April 2005. He remains (as of December 2005) one of Time-Warner’s largest individual shareholders. He is also chairman of the Case Foundation, which he and his wife Jean Case created in 1997. In 2011, Steve and Jean Case, were honored as Citizens of the Year by the National Conference on Citizenship and interviewed by Stephanie Strom of The New York Times about their record of service and philanthropic endeavors.
Case was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2011, he was appointed as a Citizen Regent of the Smithsonian Institution. Case serves as a co-chair of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. In May 2014, Case received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Georgetown University.
Revolution holds majority stakes in several healthcare companies (including Revolution Health Group) and luxury travel firms (including Miraval and luxury destination club Exclusive Resorts, where Case serves as Chairman). In August 2005 it purchased a controlling interest in Flexcar, which merged with Zipcar in November 2007. It was also an early investor in Living Social.
On November 18, 2009 American Express announced plans to purchase Revolution Money, a division of Revolution LLC, for $300 Million.
In 2007 Case along with Ted Leonsis on February 27, 2007 joined in a $5.5-million investment in widget syndication specialist Clear spring Technologies.
Case controls tens of thousands of acres of land in Hawaii, including a controlling interest in Maui Land & Pineapple Company, and Grove Farm, obtained in a highly controversial transaction which led to years of litigation by the farm’s previous owners.
In May 2010 Hello wallet raised $3.6 million in Series A funding from Steve Case and his wife Jean (and Grotech Ventures).
Quote: “You have to get along with people, but you also have to recognize that the strength of a team is different people with different perspective and different personalities.”