AOL Makes Executive Changes

America Online, Inc., the online subsidiary of AOL Time Warner that was supposed to be economic engine driving the AOL-Time Warner merger but has been faltering of late, announced a number of executive changes Wednesday, including James Bankoff as executive vice president, operations, AOL Interactive Services and David Gang as executive vice president of Product Marketing.

Bankoff and Gang will report to Jimmy de Castro, president, AOL Interactive Services, who is faced with the task of reviving the unit’s sluggish revenues, amid lackluster subscriber growth and the worst advertising climate since the Great Depression.

In his new post, Bankoff will lead the development, coordination and management of AOL online products and services, including content channels, design and features, as well as e-commerce initiatives. Gang will oversee product strategy across the AOL brands and the Web Properties Group.

Bankoff previously served as president of the AOL Web Properties Group, vice president of strategy and operations for the AOL Brand, and as a director in AOL’s Electronic Commerce Business Development Group. Joel Davidson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Web Properties Group, will replace Bankoff in overseeing the group as executive vice president.

Previously, Gang served as a senior vice president for strategic development through the development of AOL 3.0, AOL 4.0, buddy lists, parental controls and AOL Instant Messenger. Gang also has served AOL as an executive vice president with Sun-Netscape Alliance.

“With these appointments, we are putting two of our most dynamic executives in roles where they can apply their experience across our products and use their expertise to enhance our services and even better respond to consumer needs,” said de Castro.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported several other executive personnel changes at AOL. The newspaper also said possible layoffs may be in the plans of Robert W. Pittman, the co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner. At Thursday’s annual AOL-Time Warner meeting, Pittman will become the sole chief operating officer.

According to the Post, Don Davis, president of AOL’s vertical markets group, which was formed just last year, will be reassigned. The vertical markets group was created to target specific industry segments. In addition, Peter Askin, president of AOL’s product group, is expected to be given different responsibilities. Katherine Borsecnik, currently in charge of online content for the 34-million user online service as president of AOL brand programming, meanwhile has asked to be reassigned.

Also leaving the 15,000 employee AOL division, according the newspaper, is Eileen Bramlet, senior vice president of Studio at AOL. The Post quotes sources as saying Bramlet is taking a leave of absence because of a family illness.

Over the last year, AOL, which was the crown jewel of the merger between America Online and Time Warner, has struggled with subscriber growth and advertising revenues. The staff changes — and especialy the renrewed presence of Pittman, who helped lead the rise of AOL during the 1990’s — is seen as a sign that the media giant expects better overall performance from its once-sparkling asset.

According to the Post, Pittman has returned from New York to take over his old office space on the AOL campus in Dulles. Pittman essentially replaces reassigned AOL CEO Barry Schuler. Pittma’s co-chief operating officer, Richard D. Parsons, will move to the post of chief executive officer of AOL Time Warner, replacing the retiring Gerald M. Levine.

The Post also warned of possible layoffs that target the interactive marketing division of AOL. The company has suffered through several rounds of layoffs since the merger between AOL and Time Warner was completed in January of 2001.

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