NEW YORK (AP) -- It wasn't as shocking as it would be for a local community college to take over Harvard, but the AOL-TimeWarner deal was to the business community just as unexpected and implausible.
Here was a new company in a new business without any pedigree and no print publishing experience taking over one of the world's most distinguished, market-entrenched print publishers.
After the shock, the questions came: Does the public really want its news, entertainment and communications from one supplier? Will the deal pass antitrust scrutiny? Can two cultures be joined?
And, of course, can it be profitable -- not just profitable in terms of bottom-line profits, but profitable also for investors?
It was, remember, investors who pumped up America Online's market value and made the deal feasible -- made the otherwise impossible deal possible -- allowing AOL in effect to use legal tender of its own mintage.
Now, investors feared, AOL's new-age shares which had helped make many of them millionaires, would be slowed. It was an unsettling thought for people used to seeing their wealth compound.
As prices of both Time Warner and AOL stock declined in the days after the deal was announced, the situation provoked even more questions, among the foremost being: How in the world could such a multifaceted behemoth be managed effectively?
What has been created isn't your ordinary management situation. This merger involves different cultures and scores of fiefdoms headed by strong egos with entrepreneurial goals of their own.
Entrepreneurship created AOL; can it be encouraged in a new and unfamiliar environment? How will it grow and keep the competition at bay and the shareholders happy?
To do so, suggest critics, is equivalent to assembling a 150-man football team, coaching all the diverse talent to pull in the same direction, taking it to the Super Bowl and winning.
Despite their recurring popularity, huge mergers, even within industries, do not have a winning history.
Harold Geneen, the master conglomerator who at mid-century built ITT into a massive assemblage of scores of corporations, defined the challenge as ''creating harmony from diversity,'' a demanding feat.
Some succeed for a while, anyway. Geneen may have been a genius, but his successor quickly began disassembling the structure built up over three decades. It was the same with many other conglomerates.
This isn't to say all conglomerates fail. General Motors and General Electric have managed quite well. And others, slimmed down, exist now as relatively staid firms doing what they know best.
The urge to merge, so intense as in the conglomeration of the 1970s, is hardly an all-purpose answer to challenges. What was one company then, Dun & Bradstreet, is now six, now, with another spinoff planned.
The rationale in the 1970s was that great size was necessary for companies to compete in the developing world of international trade. The explanation given today is that size, diversity, content and technology are requirements of the Internet age.
If so, it's the challenge accepted by Steve Case of AOL and Gerald Levin and Bob Pittman of Time Warner. While they have much to prove, they've already proved a lot, and in the case of Steve Case, the impossible.
They intend to win the biggest prize of all, and the incentives to pull out all stops are intense.
The prize is a powerful hold on the technology that puts them into millions of home, the content to attract the minds in those homes, and the power to influence the decisions those people make.
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