Until now, most of Tim Armstrong’s hires since he joined AOL (NYSE: TWX) as CEO have been in advertising or the business side, including a number from his former employer Google. Newest hire Brad Garlinghouse is a switch in both cases: a product guy from portal competitor Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO). Garlinghouse was exploring companies big and small as possible landing points, working as a senior adviser at Silver Lake Partners, when Armstrong called with an unexpected opportunity just weeks ago. Tuesday, he’ll be introduced as AOL’s president of internet and mobile communications. He spoke with paidContent on the eve of the announcement. Some excerpts follow:
What’s your remit for AOL? When I came in to run Yahoo Mail a long time ago, it was #3 in the industry, their messenger products were #2 in the industry. Today, they’re both #1 in their segment. Obviously, that’s part of the remit—hey, how can we go revitalize and really create wow, great consumer experiences around AOL’s core communications properties. But also it’s broader than that: how do we do that in mobile products, how do we do that participating at a very senior level in product discussions? ...
I believe very much in the viewpoint that great products come from great teams. AOL certainly has its challenges attracting and retaining talented people. One of the things that impressed me the most during my interview process and the diligence I did is Tim has done an amazing job getting throughout that organization excited and the morale trend line at AOL is actually really positive and that’s incredibly hard to achieve. People are incredibly excited at all levels ... People believe in authentic leadership with clearly articulated ‘here’s where we’re going’ and Tim brings that.”
One of the things that helps is Tim hasn’t had to do a massive cutback. That’s fair but by the same token he has been transparent. ... He has said to his team, ‘We have to make sure our cost structure is aligned with our business opportunity.’ And he has said, ‘We’re going to have to look at that.’ He has gone on the record on that topic. ... One of the things I’m impressed with in the opportunity here is as this spins out from Time Warner, instead of being managed to numbers for Time Warner, which really was harvesting it for cash flow, all of the sudden it’s like, hey, listen, let’s make this thing hum. Let’s really revitalize it and rebuild a lot of the products and the consumer experiences. Some of those things will be AOL branded, some won’t.”
If Yahoo’s peanut butter, what’s AOL? “I’m going to work on that. I dont know my answer to that yet.I’ve been there not even 10 minutes. Some of the challenges I articulated, which (new Yahoo CEO) Carol Bartz has been proactive in trying to address, I feel like I see already a kindred spirit in the leadership that Tim has brought to bear on AOL in his first 100 days.”
By Staci D. Kramer