Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

A Sneak Peek at Ted Leonsis's New Book: "The Business of Happiness"


This weekend, BoomTown got hold of a new book by former AOL exec and longtime entrepreneur Ted Leonsis, which it set to be released on Feb. 8 by Regnery Publishing.

Titled “The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Life and Work,” Leonsis penned the book with former AOL PR head John Buckley.

And like the ebullient Leonsis, its entertaining fulcrum is a list he often talks about, one he made after a scary plane experience 25 years ago of the 101 things he wanted to achieve before he died.

“At the time, I thought that ticking items off my list would make me happy,” he writes in the book’s introduction.

It seems to have worked, he notes. “I’ve found that actively pursuing happiness seems to be a driver of success.”

In the second part of the book, Leonsis offers advice to others on how to get to happiness and success the Ted way.

But I especially enjoyed the first part, in which Leonsis tells his story–from humbling beginnings to college at Georgetown University to his start in the tech industry at Wang to his first successful forays into entrepreneurship.

Eventually, one of his start-ups–Redgate Communications–was bought by Steve Case of AOL.

Leonsis writes about this roller-coaster ride at AOL, which had as many downs as ups–with one of its down-est downs being its moment of glory: The merger with Time Warner (TWX).


“Let me state for the record: I was passionately opposed to the merger with Time Warner,” he writes. And he was.

For the most part in the book, Leonsis is probably kinder to the principals on all sides than is warranted.

But–for those who know him well–this is due more his glass-full nature than trying to be willfully opaque about what is now widely considered the worst U.S. business alliance in history.

And Leonsis does correctly point out one of the merger’s main screw-ups–the inability, due to internal politics, to sell AOL broadband over Time Warner’s powerful cable system.

It is also no surprise that Leonsis takes the AOL side, painting a picture of obstructive Time Warner execs more obsessed with Wall Street than creating great products.

Writes Leonsis:

“It was no longer, ‘What great product did we release this week?’ Everything–everything–was about whether we were going to send enough money to New York to help our new corporate parent meet its $11 billion EBITDA number and generate cash flow to pay off Time Warner’s debts. I remember coming out of meetings and saying to people, ‘We could be making nuclear power plants, for all you could tell from that meeting.'”

In the end, the Time Warner forces won out over those from AOL and Leonsis found that he was the last man standing, this time with new CEO Jon Miller.

With Miller, Leonsis slogged on at AOL, trying to move its prospects forward, but that also ended in tears.

Miller–who is now digital head at News Corp. (NWS)–got unfairly canned by Time Warner.

Unhappy with the new exec team–which was later tossed out too–Leonsis left in 2007.

AOL (AOL) has recently been spun out of Time Warner, with former Google (GOOG) exec Tim Armstrong at the helm.


And Leonsis has also moved on–becoming even more involved with his sports teams, forays into filmmaking and investing in new start-ups (sometimes with Case)–and carving out what seems to be a pretty happy life.

At the end of his book, Leonsis publishes his list and shows what he has checked off and what he has not.

He seems to have made a big dent in it, although he still needs to win a world championship and go into outer space. Also get a hole-in-one.

Not that I am keeping track, Ted, but you better get cracking.

And, to get a taste of Ted’s infectious style, here’s an interview with him I did in Silicon Valley in 2008, in which he mentions happiness a lot:

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google