Ex-Time Warner CEO Returns to the Web With Health Startup


Former Time Warner CEO, Gerald Levin, may best be remembered for the disastrous merger he architected with AOL (s aol) in 2000. The marriage was a failure and Levin went on to retire a short time later. But the former executive has made a quiet return to the online world as an investor and board member of health information start-up OrganizedWisdom and now sees the power of channeling social media to help better the lives of people. New York-based OrganizedWisdom gathers and curates the knowledge of medical professionals who share online. Levin believes his original bet on digital will be even more powerful and meaningful when applied to health and wellness.

I talked with Levin, in a conversation earlier this week, shared his changing views on the power of the web. Back when he pulled the trigger on the AOL deal, he believed that old media had to move and embrace the digital world or be left behind. While he’s apologized to the employees and shareholders who lost money on what he called the worst deal of the century, he doesn’t regret the move. If anything, he said he should have acted more quickly because online media is so transformative and disruptive.

“The underlying concept was right, but the timing was off,” Levin said. “The culture and human side of putting together old media and new media didn’t work out. But I probably would have moved faster. The only way to do something effective is move quickly.”

Back then, Levin saw the power of online media to disrupt old patterns. But he thought it would lead to more consumer-controlled interactive media. For Levin, he understood the power of online as a business opportunity.

Upon retiring in 2002, Levin opened up the Moonview Sanctuary, a health and wellness treatment center in Santa Monica with his wife. Serving there touched on his interests in health and helped him recover from the rigors of his former work, which he described as “a 24-hour isolation booth,” that tried his soul. Health issues became even more personal when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago. His passion prompted entrepreneur and investor Esther Dyson to suggest that he invest in OrganizedWisdom, a company I recently profiled. The start-up believes social media can bridge the gap in knowledge between medical professionals and consumers, who are often left to fend for themselves online. Impressed with OrganizedWisdom’s mission, Levin invested an undisclosed sum a year ago and now sits on the board.

He said health care in the U.S. is in desperate need of disruption and he sees social media as a tool for that. With heavy government regulations stifling the flow of information, Levin said social media has the ability to surface new data and understanding on health topics and build communities around health care. In essence, Levin believes there’s still more interactivity that needs to happen with online media.

“There’s a lot of wisdom and experience around the world that never sees the light of day, but this is an opportunity to open those avenues of sharing information,” he said. “The Internet is a disruptive technology, but we view it as disruptive to business models. But it’s also disruptive to our own health patterns and structures. I think the highest application of digital media is to live happier, more fulfilled lives.”

Levin has seen some of the power first hand. Last year, he came upon a link through Twitter about high incidences of Parkinson’s disease among farm workers. He said the discovery helped push him to go vegan and avoid pesticides, which he believes has helped with his treatment. In the same way, he believes social media can help plug the gaps in health care understanding and ultimately lead to better awareness about health issues of all kinds.

“We’ve seen (what) community and crowd-sourcing can do, now let’s apply it to this field,” he said.

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