One of the major sources of speculation at AOL Time Warner was what one-time wunderkind Bob Pittman would do now that his co-COO Dick Parsons had bypassed him to replace retiring CEO Jerry Levin.
The answer emerged last week when ex-MTVer Pittman assumed an old role: taking charge of the America Online service. And, like the first time he took on the task of running America's biggest online service, he is on a mission to rescue the operation from suddenly slackened growth. He will retain his COO title.
Last Tuesday, AOL Time Warner Inc. reassigned America Online CEO Barry Schuler to make room for Pittman. Schuler is heading a new division developing digital services, such as digital music delivery.
After Pittman joined AOL as COO in 1995, his biggest accomplishment was bringing a business sensibility to operations that had focused on growth rather than profit. Now he must revive the faded online-advertising business that once coaxed tens of millions of dollars out of individual "partners" that peddled to AOL's customers. He must also manage the transition of AOL's dial-up customers to broadband, creating new opportunities for a "programmer" like AOL.
Observed one Wall Street analyst, "It gives him an important mission and keeps conflicts with Parson's moves in the entertainment and media businesses to a minimum."