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New AOL Chief to Staff: Think Bigger

Mike Musgrove

AOL's new chief executive urged his staff to "think bigger" and "embrace change" in a memo this week marking the conclusion of his first 100 days on the job.

"AOL is at the center of the industry changing the world," wrote former Google executive Tim Armstrong in an e-mail to company employees. "We have a lot of work to do, but we can make a lasting and meaningful impact on people's lives by building our company into what we know it can be."

While the former dial-up giant is still part of Time Warner, AOL is on track to be spun off and made into a standalone company again later this year.

Armstrong is scheduled to share some more of his strategy for the company with AOLers in an all-hands meeting next Friday.

The memo:

AOLers -

Today marks the end of the 100-day process and I want to personally thank you for the many ideas, suggestions and questions you shared about what AOL has to offer the world. I also want to thank you for the hospitality and time you put into making the 100 days as productive as 300 days. After seeing more than 6,000 of you and trading e-mails and phone calls with hundreds of others in the AOL universe, it is time for us to begin to execute the vision of AOL's future. We've already started our work and we have a long way to go down a very challenging road - but we're going to do what it takes to make AOL a global leader.

Before coming to AOL, I spoke with a lot of people about this company, and the views generally fell into two camps. The first group thought AOL and the AOL brands were past the point of no return. The second thought AOL was a misunderstood and underestimated asset. It probably won't come as a shock that, after spending 100 days with all of you, my view falls strongly into the second camp - AOL is an incredible asset and it can be improved.

AOL serves more than 275 million global consumers each month. We have the largest digital ad network by reach and many of the top content sites on the Internet. We have a massive local distribution platform and a communications network that serves more than 100 million people. Not to mention, there is an entire suite of assets we've rediscovered during the past three months that had been nearly counted out of the AOL portfolio. Most importantly, the pipeline of employee innovation is flowing again.

We'll be gathering as a global company next week to talk about our focus areas - content, advertising, local, communications and AOL Ventures. We will shape and change our company to focus on those areas. In our meeting we'll also unveil the mission statement, go deeper into our strategic plan, discuss our brand and, importantly, review what it's going to take us to operate AOL as a leader in the Internet economy. After the May 29th All Hands, a survey revealed that 96% of employees agreed or strongly agreed with the strategy we presented, and now it's go time.

In the meantime, I want to talk about some of the cultural aspects I've seen at AOL over the past 100 days, and what we need to do to create a winning culture at every level of the company.

- Focus on the consumer. During our kick-off meeting in March, I noted that AOL's success came when it focused on the consumer and on making their lives better with great products. That focus will help us win again as the digital transformation accelerates. One good example: on MapQuest, we removed almost 60% of the ads on some important pages, simplified the information and moved more content above the fold. Traffic went up and our revenue didn't significantly change.

- Embrace change. Our focus has changed, our structure has changed, and if your work, time and thoughts haven't changed, they must. How would you organize yourself to be the No. 1 person at your job, product, service, or function? By addressing change this way, you're taking charge of your destiny and ours. The Network Operations Center (NOC) teams in Dulles and Bangalore, for example, changed their communication systems to be connected with each other 24/7, 365. You would have a hard time telling the difference between the teams and the cultures (except for the Cricket bats in the Bangalore NOC).

- Deliver exceptional value for partners and for each other. If you are an employee or a manager, your job is to make sure you hold yourself, your group, and the company accountable for delivering what we commit to deliver to our partners and, just as importantly, to each other. Our partners and employees deserve and should expect us to deliver the value we promise. We just reviewed the 8th annual overview of the partnership with Google this week, and after billions of dollars and billions of searches, we're still finding ways to improve results and communication.

- Play to win. Winning in our business is simple to measure. Either you're growing more consumer and advertiser usage in a natural way or you're not. Pageview growth without unique visitor growth is losing. Advertiser retention below 90% is losing. Making processes and policies more complex is losing. Delighting employees, consumers and partners is winning. AOL's DailyFinance iPhone app launching and shooting up to the No. 1 free finance download in the Apple app store - that is winning.

- Think bigger. Great companies think big. We need to challenge ourselves to look for those big, bold, daring, audacious ideas and opportunities. Small ideas often take just as long to implement as big ones and have the same failure rates in many cases. We'll share some big thoughts at our meeting next week - including the next 100-day plan.

AOL is at the center of the industry changing the world. We have a lot of work to do, but we can make a lasting and meaningful impact on people's lives by building our company into what we know it can be. Many people helped make the first 100 days a success. Jeff Bewkes and John Martin at Time Warner provided invaluable guidance and advice. AOL Corporate Communications led by Tricia Primrose organized a flawless agenda and schedule. And lastly, Maureen Marquess has made every trip and has been a critical advisor to me and the entire AOL team.

We'll see you next Friday -- TA

By Mike Musgrove  |  July 17, 2009; 11:37 AM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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Hey, I have an idea... send out lots of disks so people will sign up for AOL! The Internet is overrated anyway.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | July 18, 2009 9:50 PM

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