Services & Software

Case to Levin: Let's make a deal

A simple phone call between two friends led to the largest merger in corporate history.

A simple phone call between two friends led to the largest merger in corporate history.

The deal crowns You've got Time Warner a blossoming friendship between Steve Case, AOL's chief executive and chairman, and Gerald Levin, who held the same dual title at Time Warner.

"Jerry and I have become close friends over the past year," Case said during a press conference today. "It started when we were co-chairing the Global Business Dialogue. And then a few months ago, we spent a week together traveling through China."

Last fall, Case decided to take the relationship to the next level: "I first called Jerry in October and said, 'I think this would be an extraordinarily strategic merger, a merger of equals. I would like you to be CEO, I would like to be chairman.' And in the past few months we honed that."

The breakthrough occurred last Thursday during a dinner at Case's home attended by Levin and a handful of other guests.

Although an agreement was reached on the major issues, a source told Bloomberg, the details were hammered out by a group of bankers, lawyers and corporate executives working practically non-stop for the past three days. Considering the size of the merger and the number of business units involved, it was something of a miracle that the negotiations stayed under wraps.

Levin singled out one executive from each company for pushing the merger to completion.

There are "two people sitting in the audience who are really responsible for this transaction, and that is Rich Bressler and Ken Novack," Levin said.

Bressler, chairman of Time Warner Digital Media, and Novack, vice chairman of AOL, are part of a four-person committee that will oversee the merger.

Ted Turner, a Time Warner director, described the experience as uniquely memorable.

"Shortly before 9:00 last night, I had the honor and privilege of signing a piece of paper that irrevocably cast a vote taken, a vote of my 100 million shares, for this merger," Turner said. "I did it with as much or more excitement and enthusiasm as I did on that night when I first made love some 42 years ago."

His support was understandable: As a result of the deal, his 100 million shares of Time Warner are worth about $3 billion.

Like the familiarity between Is Time Warner next in merger  mania?the CEOs, one of the investment banks also had a relationship with one of the merger's partners. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which represented Time Warner, also worked for Netscape when it was acquired by AOL last year.

Salomon Smith Barney represented AOL in the latest deal, and Goldman Sachs handled the Netscape merger for AOL.'s Dawn Kawamoto and Bloomberg contributed to this report.