Andreessen to take post at AOL

The executive vice president and cofounder of Netscape agrees to become chief technology officer at AOL, following its acquisition of Netscape.

3 min read
Marc Andreessen, Internet visionary and cofounder of Netscape Communications, has agreed to become chief technology officer at America Online following the online giant's acquisition of Netscape, a source confirmed.

The source also said that Andreessen has been in talks with AOL to discuss his role in the merged company since shortly after the merger first was announced.

Andreessen, whose programming handiwork as a 22-year-old student created the first application allowing nontechnical users to easily navigate the Internet, will report directly to AOL chief executive Steve Case, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The techno-whiz who since has served as vice president of technology at Netscape is likely to lead a team devoted to trying to keep AOL at the top of the rapidly evolving online arena. The Journal reported that Andreessen will not oversee any of AOL's technical operations or Netscape's continuing software efforts.

Both AOL and Netscape declined to comment on the development, as they are in a Securities and Exchange Commission-mandated quiet period. Andreessen's move to AOL, however, is contingent upon regulatory approval of AOL's $4.2 billion acquisition of Netscape announced in November, sources told the Journal.

As previously reported by CNET News.com, Andreessen said he considers the Washington area, where AOL is headquartered, to have the potential to become another Silicon Valley, pointing to the area's concentration of telecommunications firms.

Industry watchers agree that Andreessen will play a vital role in maintaining morale and retaining programming talent at Netscape once the company is in the AOL fold.

AOL's acquisition of Netscape came at a critical juncture in the young company's life. Its prolonged browser battle with Microsoft had drained revenues from its Navigator software, and had led to sagging morale at the start-up.

Shortly before the merger was announced, Andreessen announced that he planned to take a sabbatical from Netscape. Once AOL came on board, he opted out of taking that break.

Speaking at a Business Week executive conference in December, Andreessen said Case's trip to Silicon Valley shortly after the merger was announced to talk about AOL's strategy and vision was "a very big deal."

Case apparently convinced Netscape skeptics that AOL is committed to retaining the Netscape brand, a key concern among employees because a typical byproduct of Silicon Valley mergers is the death of the acquired brand. Case also offered Netscape employees financial incentives to stay on board.

Andreessen's transition from vice president of technology to a similar position at AOL evolved slowly. There was an obvious culture clash between the two companies, along with a widespread attitude at the Silicon Valley start-up that AOL technology was inferior and that the company placed too much emphasis on marketing.

Shortly after the merger announcement, however, Andreessen said he hoped AOL's marketing prowess could be infused into Netscape's culture.

"Technology without marketing is not very interesting--there are lots of examples of great technology and poor marketing," he said at the time. "Programmers don't have an affinity for marketing, but they love it when their products are popular. They really respect the results [marketers] are able to achieve."

It took several meetings between Andreessen and Case and other AOL executives to hammer out an acceptable role for Andreessen at AOL, sources familiar with the situation told the Journal.