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Case: Management Team Will Stay Intact

NEW YORK -America Online Inc. chairman Steve Case told a group of analysts last week that his company's pending merger with Time Warner Inc. is on track to close by Jan. 20.

Case, speaking to analysts at the UBS Warburg Media Conference Dec. 5, said the merger should be approved "before the next president is inaugurated," which is supposed to occur on Jan. 20.

"I'm here to tell you that we are in the home stretch," Case said. "We are on track to close at the end of this month or in the first days of the New Year."

Case said AOL Time Warner will have a leg up on other megamergers because the companies have had close to a year to ensure a smooth transition.

"We've used this time to build out the vision as well as the nuts and bolts of this new company, so we really will be able to hit the ground running on day one," Case said.

Case, picking up on a theme stated recently by Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, also said the advertising downturn has not hurt AOL Time Warner like it has others.

"We have long said that there is a flight to quality, that companies want to look to the leading companies that have the leading brands and have the widest audiences," he said. "We're starting to see that."

That flight to quality also comes as a result of the shakeout in the Internet sector, in which companies that had massive valuations a year ago have fallen by the wayside. Case called the shakeout justified and helpful.

"In the long run this is a positive thing that will result in a strengthening of the leaders in each of these industries," Case said. "People are taking a harder look and saying, 'What really is going to happen here within each of these segments and what, more broadly, is happening with the convergence of these segments within the Internet sector? Who are the companies poised to connect the dots for consumers and advertisers?'"

AOL Time Warner will be poised to connect the dots because of its market strength and its management team, a team Case stressed would remain intact.

"What you'll find if you look at the management team is an unusual level of integration and teamwork and camaraderie," he said. "I know there has been speculation about all of these different personalities and egos and, 'How can this possibly work?' but I think you'll find it will work remarkably well."