Peter Kafka

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AOL Gets a New CEO: Google Sales Boss Tim Armstrong (Plus the Whole Press Release)

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Everyone who wondered why Randy Falco and Ron Grant were still running AOL gets an answer: Time Warner (TWX) was lining up their replacement.

Google (GOOG) sales chief Tim Armstrong becomes chairman and CEO of the troubled Web property, effective immediately.

The move is getting immediate cheers from current and former AOL employees I’ve talked to. The snap consensus is that anyone would have been better than Falco, a longtime NBC executive, and Grant, who was Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes’s chief lieutenant before being elevated to his role as President and COO of AOL.

But they’re particularly happy to see a sales guy running the organization: AOL once had a much admired sales operation. But in recent years, the group has been roiled, as a series of sales chiefs came and went. (From Kara Swisher, here are more details on the shakeup, and an interview with Armstrong. And here’s some early betting on Armstrong’s replacement at Google — former Doubleclick CEO David Rosenblatt has a lot of fans).

The current AOL sales chief, former Yahoo (YHOO) sales boss Greg Coleman, was installed just last month. He’s been deep into a reorg of his own.

It was desperately needed after AOL’s miserable performance in 2008, which concluded with a quarter that saw ad revenue drop 18 percent. But those plans may be up in the air now.

In any case, here is the full press release from Time Warner about the firing of Falco and Grant, after the jump:

NEW YORK, March 12, 2009–Tim Armstrong, Google Senior Vice President, has been named Chairman and CEO of AOL, LLC, Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX) Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes announced today. Current AOL Chairman and CEO Randy Falco and President and COO Ron Grant plan to leave the company after a transition period.

In making the announcement Mr. Bewkes said: “Tim is the right executive to move AOL into the next phase of its evolution. At Google, Armstrong helped build one of the most successful media teams in the history of the Internet–helping to make Google the most popular online search advertising platform in the world for direct and brand marketers. He’s an advertising pioneer with a stellar reputation and proven track record. We are privileged to have him preside over AOL as its audience and programming businesses continue to grow and its advertising platform expands globally. He’ll also be helpful in helping Time Warner determine the optimal structure for AOL.”

Tim Armstrong said: “I’m very excited about the opportunities presented in leading AOL. AOL has a wide-ranging set of assets and audience. The company is well positioned to enhance those assets into a larger share of the Internet audience and advertiser communities. AOL and Google have been partners for years and I look forward to collaborating with Jeff Bewkes and his team as we explore the right structure and future for AOL.”

Mr. Bewkes added: “Randy led AOL in its transition from a subscription business to an audience business. Under Randy and Ron, AOL’s programming sites exhibited year-over-year growth in unique visitors for 23 consecutive months with many of its sites now in the top five of their categories. They also assembled Platform-A, the number one display ad network in the U.S. with a reach of more than 90%. They also aggressively cut costs as they restructured the Audience business portion of the company into three distinct operating units: People Networks, MediaGlow, and Platform-A. As Randy and Ron move on, they leave AOL with our gratitude and appreciation for remaking the company and bringing it to a new and promising level.”

Tim Armstrong was a member of Google’s Operating Committee and served as the president of the Americas Operations. Under the Americas Operations, Armstrong’s team managed publishers and advertisers’ relationships and platforms with some of the world’s most widely recognized media and agency brands.  Armstrong started at Google in the year 2000 and opened the first office outside of the Mountain View, CA headquarters.

Mr. Armstrong joined Google from Snowball.com, where he was vice president of sales and strategic partnerships. Prior to his role at Snowball.com, he served as director of integrated sales & marketing at Starwave’s and Disney’s ABC/ESPN Internet Ventures, working across the companies’ Internet, TV, radio, and print properties. He started his career by co-founding and running a newspaper based in Boston, MA, before joining IDG to launch their first consumer Internet magazine, I-Way.

Mr. Armstrong sits on the boards of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Advertising Council, and the Advertising Research Foundation, and is a trustee at Connecticut College and Lawrence Academy. He is a member of Mayor Bloomberg’s MediaNYC 2020 committee.  He is a graduate of Connecticut College, with a double major in economics and sociology.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik