Update: Ted checks in with his thoughts on “Miller time.”
Today was a very sad day for me. One of the few mentors I’ve had in my life, Jon Miller, was replaced as CEO of AOL.
I feel in love with the challenge of AOL 18 months ago when Jon Miller, Ted Leonsis, and Jim Bankoff courted me and my team to join their revival of the company. The goal was ambitious: move AOL from a multi-billion dollar subscription business to an advertising business–in real time. It was a crazy mission, and as you can probably guess I’m always up for a crazy mission.
Leading this mission was Jon Miller, a quiet samurai of a leader who built our turnaround team and plan–and then lead us into battle as we relentlessly executed against it. I watched him masterfully turn around AOL firsthand. It was impressive considering when I got here the company was torn between the two business models (subscription and advertising), and a year later we were CRUSHING Yahoo’s growth rate and were second only to Google’s. It wasn’t easy to turn this huge ship around, but we did it thanks to Jon’s leadership.
Jon gets the Internet, but most importantly he gets people.
Honestly, I wouldn’t want to manage someone like myself, but he embraced it. Whenever he was in town we spent time together and he would randomly setup calls to chat me up. He was 100% open with me about all the challenges of his job and AOL’s future. He took me to dinners with all kinds of famous and powerful folks, and proudly introduced me to them as “someone you need to know and spend time with.”
He made me feel like part of the team which was something I frankly didn’t think would happen when we sold AOL our business. He did this with everyone however. He would get to know you and then he would drill down into the finest details of what you were working on. He would look at Engadget, Netscape, and my personal blog every day and send me comments. He would ask me about things I wrote six months ago–he’s a detail guy like that.
At the same time he didn’t assume he knew better than “the kids” he had working for him. He made us feel like peers and he listened intently to our opinions and advice. He asked great questions and he pushed us to think big.
Looking back on my year at AOL I learned one the big lesson: how to scale a business. When I arrived at AOL I knew how to build a $10-15M a year company. It’s a year later and I now know how to run a billion dollar business. For that, Jon, I’ll always be thankful.
Miller is not a brash self-promoting CEO, and maybe that worked against him a little. However, he turned this ship around and built a kick-ass team. The number don’t lie. I don’t know why Jon is leaving, and frankly I’m not smart enough to figure out why a CEO would leave after posting the amazing numbers he did over the past three quarters, so I won’t even try and speculate.
Best wishes to the quiet samurai who saved the village, asked for no credit in return, and walked on to the next challenge with dignity.
On behalf of the entire AOL turn around team I thank you.
Note: I’ve gotten a bunch of press folks contacting me about my future at AOL now that Ted Leonsis and Jon Miller are no longer with the company. I’ve got nothing to say about that right now, so consider this an official “no comment.”
Update: Sree checks in.