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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 5, 2005

AOL co-founder having 'fun' in healthcare, resort venture

By David A. Vise
Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Taking a break from his efforts to build a new healthcare and luxury resort business, Steve Case recently went for a swim in the ocean off Hawai'i. When a big wave approached, Case tried to ride it to shore.

Steve Case was the keynote speaker at the 2004 Hawai'i Business Top 250 Luncheon held at Hilton Hawaiian Village. Case has a new holding company, Revolution LLC, and is betting he can transform the way people are treated in the healthcare and hospitality industries.

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"He jumped on a big wave and got slammed," recalled David Cole, his business partner. "I said to him, 'It looks like wellness boy has decided to add sand to his diet.' "

Case increasingly is throwing himself into unpredictable waters as he tries a comeback after his fall from grace that followed the troubled America Online-Time Warner merger. The question is whether things will go smoothly this time around for AOL's co-founder, or whether he'll encounter the sort of turbulence that followed the mega-deal he now describes as disappointing.

The return of Case, a self-described "serial entrepreneur," to the business scene marks the beginning of the next phase of his career, after two decades at AOL. He said he enjoyed his first 10 years at AOL, when he was more hands-on and the company was smaller, much more than the second 10 years at the helm of a large enterprise.

Case wants to buy early-stage, consumer-oriented businesses that he can shape, develop and turn into profitable engines of growth. Already, he has purchased control of several firms in the resort and spa industry and partnered with existing business owners, who retain a minority stake.

He calls his new holding company Revolution LLC.

"This is my thing. This is what I do. Maybe I'll go to 'Entrepreneurs Anonymous' someday, but right now I'm doing what I love and working harder and having more fun than at anytime in the past five to 10 years," Case said.

In an interview at the firm's downtown Washington offices, Case said he spends much of his time traveling to look at potential business or real estate acquisitions. No matter where he is, Case sends his small cadre of colleagues dozens of e-mails, often keeping them up late into the night responding to his flurry of questions, much the same way he used to do at AOL.

No detail at Revolution appears too small for his attention. He wrote the copy on the company's Web site himself. "I wanted to make sure it reflected my perspective and my voice," Case said. And he spent a month with an outside firm that produced dozens of different designs of Revolution's logo before he signed off.

"The name said a lot, so we wanted to be conservative, mainstream, on the logo itself," he said. "The logo is a big deal."

Case hopes the Revolution name and logo eventually can be spread across his various business holdings, creating additional value.

In the meantime, the 45-year-old Case said he is betting more than $500 million of his own money that he will be able to transform the way consumers are treated in the healthcare and hospitality industries. The Revolution team includes Donn Davis, a former top lieutenant at America Online; a pair of former Time Warner acquisitions specialists; and Ron Klain, Revolution's general counsel.

So far, Case has purchased majority stakes in Wisdom Media Group Inc., a health-oriented radio and television broadcaster, and two upscale businesses: Exclusive Resorts LLC, a vacation club offering luxury accommodations for the rich; and Miraval, a high-priced resort and spa.

In 18 months, Exclusive Resorts has grown from around 50 members who vacationed at a dozen mansions to more than 1,200 members and more than 200 residences owned or under construction. Members pay $375,000 to join Exclusive Resorts, plus annual fees of up to $30,000, giving them access to luxury accommodations around the world.

Case also controls tens of thousands of acres of land in Hawai'i, where he was born, in part through one of Hawai'i's biggest public companies, Maui Land and Pineapple Co. (He is the largest shareholder; David Cole runs the business.) The firm is rebuilding an upscale resort on Maui adjacent to thousands of acres of parkland and constructing housing, schools and a medical clinic for its employees. Through this venture and others, Case has won over many locals, who once feared he would be just another ruthless developer.