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If you like Stephen Cases's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
Jeffrey Bezos,
Michael Dell,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
Reid Hoffman,
Jeong Kim,
James Kimsey,
Pierre Omidyar,
Larry Page,
Carlos Slim
and Ted Turner

Stephen Cases's recommended reading: The Third Wave

Related Links:
Case Foundation

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Steve Case
Steve Case
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Steve Case Interview (page: 8 / 8)

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  Steve Case

Do you have a sense of where the next technological revolution is going to come from, or are we done?

Steve Case: I don't think we're ever done, because the pace of technology continues to change. One area I'm particularly interested in is the impact of technology on health care. Health care is a mess. Everybody is unhappy with it. The patients are unhappy, the doctors are unhappy and the government is unhappy. The HMOs are unhappy. It's a mess and yet it's 15 percent of our GNP and it's obviously a critical part of people's lives, because everybody cares about their health and the health of their families and friends. Partly through philanthropy we created a foundation that is doing research related to brain cancer because that's what my brother died from. I'm now trying to broaden that and look at brain diseases more generically, like Alzheimer's. In other words, there's more commonality with brain diseases and a more integrated approach to brain sciences may make sense. We're also looking at the potential opportunity on the business building side in terms of having an impact on health care.

This is one of the things that dawned on me. What if I had said 25 years ago that what I want to do is help level the playing field? To give people access to technology tools so you don't have to be a big company to get your ideas published and you don't have to own a printing press. If I wanted to do that and I had created a foundation for leveling the playing field, I'm not sure what impact it would have had. Instead I went with some other people and started AOL, which achieved that social purpose as well as achieving a great business success.

So sometimes there are ways to do this through the private sector that can have a more profound impact on your chosen social cause through business, and health care I think is a great example. Education is another great example, so I'm looking at ways to do that through traditional philanthropy, through grants and encouraging collaboration as well as through funding some businesses and partnering with some entrepreneurs that might be effective.

Where does your sense of social responsibility come from? Were you raised with that?

Steve Case: I think so. I think almost everybody understands that where much is given, much is expected.

The resources you happen to accumulate, what do you do with them? You can spend the money and buy some houses or whatever, and people do some of that and that's fine. You can give the money to other people, either your family -- but usually when you do that you screw them up and it ends up not being a particularly -- it's well intended but often counterproductive. Or, you take those resources and reinvest them in things that you believe in, and that could be reinvesting in a philanthropic cause. That could be reinvesting in business causes or trying to look at it through more of a hybrid approach, which is my inclination, but I do feel a sense of responsibility. People often ask me whether I would want to move into the more formal kind of government role or public service, and I guess never say never, but my preference would be to try to figure out a way through this prism, this platform, building on my interests and strengths. Maybe there's a way I can leave the world a better place than I found it, but in a different way, and that's what I'm going to be continuing to work on in the years to come.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

When you look back on the first half of your life, what are you most proud of?

Steve Case: I'm pretty proud of my family, so that's a good start. I think AOL from a business standpoint has been a terrific success. The Internet is now taken for granted and really is part of everyday life, which 20-25 years ago people thought was science fiction. I'm proud of the role I played there. I'm proud of the company we built and I'm proud that many of the people who made a lot of money on AOL focus a lot of their time now on giving back. So there's a lot of things to be appreciative and thankful about.

I focus less on looking back and more on looking forward. That was all interesting. It was a great journey for 20-plus years. Some ups, some downs but overall a great experience. The question now is "What's the next journey? What's the next challenge?" That's really where I'll focus. For better or worse, I'm not one to spend a lot of time looking back and remembering the good old days. The good old days still may be lying ahead, and rather than celebrating the past, why not embrace the future?

I think we live in extraordinary times and there are many challenges, but there are also many opportunities. Bringing a perspective which is a more entrepreneurial, out of the box, swing for the fences perspective is where I can contribute and I'll be looking to do that in as many different venues as makes sense.

Are there any budding business entrepreneurs among your kids?

Steve Case: It's probably a little early to say. They're certainly not doing some of the things I was doing at the time. But the wonderful thing about kids, and having five of them you really see this, is how different each is. It really is extraordinary. For just the same reason I said at the age of 45 I'm not quite sure what lies ahead, from ages 9 through 16 I don't know, and I'm sure they don't know, and that's what makes it fun.

My guess is all five will go in different directions and will have wonderful, productive, constructive lives and wonderful families, but also find their own passion and stick with it and persevere and bring with it a certain sense of perspective, a recognition that it really is about people. The people you hang out with, or the people you align in some part of a team, really are the key ingredient to success and I think to happiness.

Before we go, we'd like to ask you about the American Dream. What does it mean to you?

Steve Case: I think it's really about hope and optimism and possibility. I think a great example -- because we happen to be talking when Ronald Reagan passed away, and this has been a week celebrating his life. I think he is the prototypical example of the American dream. Somebody who came up from modest beginnings, had a certain perspective on life and was an actor, when people didn't necessarily think he could act or that he should act, and then moved from that into a position of leadership in the Motion Picture Association, and then decided to move into politics as governor and then president. I think most people would have to say -- whether you liked his politics or didn't -- that he in his 93 years on earth lived an extraordinary life and really is an example of the boundless possibilities and optimism of America.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

There are many other examples, but I think that's really what it's all about. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it and you really work hard and you bring the right perspective to it. You shouldn't focus on why you can't do something, which is what most people do. You should focus on why perhaps you can, and be one of the exceptions.

I find it interesting that in America, even though most people are more optimistic and most people around the world do view America as the city on the hill and more entrepreneurial and more risk taking and less traditional, still in America most people don't take risks, and most people are pretty traditional. It's actually a relatively small number of people that really are those risk takers, and a relatively small number of people that end up really having an impact on the world, and it doesn't take a lot of people. It just takes a few people who really care and stick with it, and that I think is what America is about. I think that's one of the things that's great really about The American Academy of Achievement, really shining a spotlight on that notion that anything is possible, but it starts with somebody having a dream and sticking with that through thick and thin.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Thank you. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.


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This page last revised on May 01, 2008 16:05 EST
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