At AOL, Some Exhale, Some Hold Their Breath

As a deadline approaches for AOL to present strategic review results to its corporate parent’s board, senior-level America Online executives are quietly leaving or being shown the door, according to people familiar with AOL Time Warner .

Some of the executives who have left were part of the inner circle of AOL’s former Chief Executive Robert Pittman (and former chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner), a person familiar with the Dulles, Virg.-based ISP said. Other executives who were recently dismissed include Mark Patricof, who is the the son of Alan Patricof, the managing partner of Apax Partners and a veteran investor who helped fund the early days of AOL when it was a start-up.

Another person familiar with the company confirmed that Mayo Stuntz, Marshall Cohen and Kenneth Lerer, who had been senior executives in the corporate headquarters of AOL Time Warner in New York, have left or are planning to exit the company.

A spokesman for AOL had no comment, and said no official reduction in headcounts had been announced recently.

Longtime observers of AOL and Time Warner, and the merged AOL Time Warner, say the latest leaks about Pittman-era AOL executives departing from New York headquarters are a kind of shot across AOL’s bow. In the fractious post-merger AOL Time Warner marriage — and as AOL executives grumble about spinning out the ISP from the corporate parent — Time Warner executives are apparently still calling the shots in the post-Pittman executive ranks.

As to whether more layoffs are planned, a source close to the company said until AOL’s strategic review is concluded, it is too soon to speculate on layoffs.

The results of the review, and a plan of how to turn around the fortunes of AOL, are expected to be presented to AOL Time Warner’s board of directors by either late November or early December. Members of AOL Time Warner senior management are also planning to meet with Wall Street analysts in early December to discuss AOL’s strategic outlook.

Stuntz and Pittman have known each other for close to 20 years, from their days at the beginnings of MTV and including work together on Internet initiatives for then-Time Warner in the 1990s.

As head of cross-media advertising for AOL, Stuntz was among the executive team Pittman had put in place in order to make a reality of cross-media synergies that Pittman and others had often preached in support of the AOL Time Warner mega-merger. Other Pittman loyalists planning to depart include Lerer, who once oversaw press relations and has recently done advisory work for CEO Richard Parsons. Cohen, who is planning to leave, headed up consumer and marketing research for AOL.

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