US entrepreneur and co-founder of America Online (AOL), whose competitive marketing strategy has transformed it into the world's largest Internet access provider. His US$105 billion merger with ‘old media’ company Time Warner, announced in January 2000, finally cleared all regulatory hurdles in January 2001 to create the first global Internet and media company, AOL Time Warner Inc, although this lasted only until 2009, when it was again split into AOL and Time Warner. Described as the ‘blue chip company’ of the Internet, AOL was the first such company to be included in the Fortune 500.
Case joined Control Video, an online service for Atari computer games, as a marketing assistant in 1983. When the company failed, he was retained by the chief executive, becoming executive vice-president of the new venture finance company, Quantum Communications, in 1985. Renamed America Online in 1989, the company offered a nationwide Internet service. A series of aggressive marketing campaigns ensured that the company had over 2 million members by 1995. Case bought his old rival CompuServe in 1997, and in 1999 purchased Netscape, whose Navigator browser threatened Microsoft's dominance, for US$4 billion. He also made strategic deals with competitors, including AT&T, Sun Microsystems, and with Bill Gates (hosting Microsoft's Internet browser in return for AOL software being included with every copy of Windows 95).
Case was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher. As children, he and his brother were business-minded, sharing a paper round, selling fruit from their garden, and then selling everything from seeds to greeting cards door to door through their company, Case Enterprises. Case graduated from Williams College, Massachusetts, in political science, spent two years in Cincinnati marketing for Proctor & Gamble, and then relocated to Kansas to develop new products for Pizza Hut.
In 1983 he joined Control Video as a marketing assistant. The company failed but Case was retained by the chief executive to find new venture finance and the business was renamed Quantum Communications in 1985. As executive vice-president Case sold its online services (then only available at night and weekends) to Commodore computer users and later to Apple and Tandy. Quantum was renamed America Online in 1989 and, as the Internet grew in popularity, launched a nationwide service. It went public with 180,000 subscribers in 1992, raising US$66 million. Case took over as chief executive officer in 1993, launching an aggressive marketing campaign that included sending out millions of free software disks to consumers. As it struggled to match demand it acquired the nickname ‘America on hold’. By 1995 it had over 2 million members and by 1996 it had introduced unlimited Internet use in return for a monthly flat fee.
Case dealt with new and different competition and rejected two separate offers from US business executives Bill Gates and Paul Allen to buy the company. In January 2000, Case announced a US$105 billion merger with Time Warner, which was approved by the US Federal Trade Commission in December and by the US Federal Communications Commission in January 2001. Case then became chair of AOL Time Warner, but stepped down from this position in May 2003, after losing the support of 22% of the company's shareholders.
Through the Case Foundation he supports initiatives that protect children online, integrate technology for schools, and, through the PowerUp programme, help young people in deprived areas. He also launched Helping.org, a site for charities, and GovernmentGuide, connecting people with their elected officials.
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