Executive Suite: MySpace's CEO took big merger in stride

Five years ago there was no such thing as MySpace. Today it's the top Internet site in the USA based on monthly page views and time spent on the site, according to Compete, which says 12% of all Internet minutes are spent on MySpace. Nearly as impressive is that MySpace has thrived since it was acquired by Rupert Murdoch's global media conglomerate News Corp. nws two years ago. MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe, 41, spoke to USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones about how the two cultures — one old school, the other new school — came together where so many failed.

Q: Wasn't News Corp.'s acquisition of MySpace the adult version of making the jocks and geeks sit together in the school cafeteria?

A: No. There have been a few rocky spots, but those got smoothed out pretty quickly.

Q: Tell me about a rocky spot?

A: Just small bumps in the road. We wanted to hire 400 to 500 people. Divisions in large companies aren't used to hiring 400 or 500 people. They consider adding 10 or 20 people to be fast. Rather than just hire them, we put together a business plan that said exactly what each would be doing and the benefits we'd get from them. It ended up being a helpful exercise. News Corp. had a thousand ideas for us. It's important to always be focused on the top four or five that we absolutely have to execute. If you try to do too many things you're just not going to get anything done. We had to push off certain ideas, to say, "No, that's a great idea and we will get to it next quarter."

Q: How does the culture at News Corp. differ?

A: They probably don't spend 70% of their day online. People in the media business, whether it's talent agencies or film companies, make phone calls or have their assistants make phone calls. At MySpace, most communication is IM (instant messaging), e-mail or text messaging. I'm not sure every 45-year-old would feel comfortable developing a profile for a social network and putting their lives out there. Everyone at MySpace feels very comfortable doing that. The average age at MySpace is mid-20s, certainly a younger demographic than at News Corp. But Fox has some pretty edgy content: The Simpsons, The Family Guy, Napoleon Dynamite. They have the perception of being an older, conservative company, but they foster incredibly edgy content for a youth culture. Our site, on the other hand, has gone more mainstream.

Q: After the AOL merger, Time Warner employees considered their AOL counterparts to be too pushy and aggressive, while AOLers considered Time Warner staffers to be coddled, passive and lazy. What was done to avoid such antagonism at MySpace?

A: I hate to sound so Pollyanna, but there is a common vision. I'm not an expert on the Time Warner twx merger, but with MySpace there was a strong consensus that it was the right thing to do, should be done quickly, and that we would be the cornerstone of the future media growth of the company. We've always had the audacious goal of MySpace being the largest Internet company in the world. I'm not saying we're ever going to get there, but that's been our goal. We believed we would get there more quickly if we were part of a larger media company.

Q: Yes, you do sound Pollyanna when the track record of mergers has been bleak. Your two-year contract with News Corp. expires in a few days. Are you at liberty to speak honestly about any culture clash there?

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