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Silly tycoon left dream job

January 16, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Poor Steve Case. The founder of America Online had the dream job and he lost it.

I know, you're tempted not to feel sorry for a chap who is worth $500 million smackeroos in AOL stock alone, but my goodness, give the guy a break.

He had it all, in my opinion. But he reached too high - got all starry-eyed over the possibilities of media technology and founded AOL, giving up his old job where he started out, I am not kidding, as a flavor tester for Pizza Hut. Yup, according to a newspaper profile this week, that was one of his first jobs: Eating pizza.

Oh right, he's quitting AOL, too, but to me that is insignificant compared to losing a job in which your primary responsibility would be to shove pepperoni in your pie hole all day long.

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I'm a simple man with simple tastes and pizza happens to be one of those tastes. If I had the job as flavor tester for Pizza Hut, you wouldn't be able to get me out of the office with a water cannon.

"Right boss, I'll volunteer to log a little overtime tonight. I should be able to get that Chicago Deep Dish out of the way by 8 so I can get to work on the cheese Stuffed Crust."

Flavor tester at Pizza Hut. And he left all that so he could get 30 million Americans blazing mad at him for creating a business in which you paid $20 a month to listen to a busy signal, get disconnected every minute and a half and view a wearisome phalanx of advertisements.

That kind of hate I can do without, especially if the alternative is glomming down a Super Supreme.

Corporate memo No. 2398: Highly recommend black olives per square inch be increased 17 percent to create dynamic synergies with the green pepper.

Of course I've been gone from AOL a long time, maybe they've fixed all those old problems. I never stopped hating them though - the company's whole modem operandi is palpably annoying, and it refuses to leave me alone.

I have to watch those infernal AOL commercials that basically say, "Our system is so easy that even a moron such as yourself could use it."

And every other day I find a couple of those free discs I don't want clogging up my mailbox. You know the ones, that advertise "10,000 free hours!" Then in the fine print they tell you that the 10,000 free hours have to be used by the end of the week or they will be lost.

Flavor tester at Pizza Hut. Where else can you write off a pair of jeans with a 44-inch waist as a business expense? Or a Happy Scalpel brand do-it-yourself angioplasty kit.

In that business world, stress is defined as fear that the tomato sauce is going a bit heavy on the oregano. Pressure is trying to find the right lamb byproduct to incorporate into the Meat Lovers. Job security can be summed up in two words: Keep chewing.

No, you may not have a yacht, but this is the extent of all the (non-heart-attack-related) problems you will ever have. You're eating pizza. For a living.

Ah, but the siren song of ginger broad bandwidth and pixel dust was too much to resist, and Case went on to make his fortune in a world that soon included accounting irregularities and plummeting stock prices. AOL merged with the venerable Time-Warner and in no time the company's share price was on the ash heap.

Needless to say, a lot of option-holding Time Warner employees - whose stock is now worth a fraction of what it was - are more than happy to ride Case out of his executive suite on a rail.

So there you have it. You're rich, but your customers don't like you, Wall Street doesn't like you and half of your own employees don't like you. Your great plan for this century's most dynamic business model crashed and burned. Your company's books are being investigated and daily you're getting trashed on the business talk-show circuit.

At what point do you look at yourself and reflect: "I could still be eating pizza?" Which, all things considered, causes less heartburn.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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