Business

10 years ago: Who was on top, and who was on the way up?

Ten years have dramatically changed the lives of four personalities who dominated the business scene in 2000. And what were some of the most significant forces in the current financial world doing 10 years ago? Here's a look:

STARS OF 2000

STEVE CASE, AOL

A decade ago, Steve Case's America Online Inc. ran the Internet portal of choice for most of the nation. So far was the company's reach that it would boldly reach a deal to buy what was then the world's largest media company, Time Warner Inc., in January 2000 for more than $160 billion.

But AOL's value plummeted as the Internet bubble burst and new conduits to the Web multiplied. Investors vilified Case, along with Time Warner chief Gerald Levin - the two architects of the merger - for orchestrating what may go down in history as the most troubled and most expensive failed business union.

This month, the deal came full circle as Time Warner, which quickly became the more powerful of the two merger partners, will complete its spinoff and send AOL back to the stock market for investors to decide its fate.

Case stepped down as chairman of the company in 2003. Today he runs Revolution LLC, which invests in a number of business and health care ventures.

SHAWN FANNING, NAPSTER

Shawn Fanning's brainchild, the file-sharing service Napster, was gaining traction in January 2000, enough to warrant front-page news coverage and to capture the attention of the music industry's lawyers. Napster allowed users to download digital tunes for free, a revolution that virtually killed off music retail outlets and forced the recording labels to the brink of oblivion.

Eventually, the labels' attorneys got Napster shut down. But that didn't stop file-sharing from taking place. A number of other services sprang up, many of which still exist today. But Apple came to the labels' rescue with its iPod device and iTunes music service, giving record companies at least a cut of the revenue.

A planned sale of bankrupt Napster's assets to Bertelsmann AG was blocked by a bankruptcy judge in 2002. An adult entertainment company made an offer for its assets out of bankruptcy court, but the Napster name eventually went to Roxio and then to electronics retailer Best Buy.

Meanwhile, Fanning remained active in technology. In 2003, he opened Snocap, which aimed to be a legitimate marketplace for digital media. Later he started Rupture, a social networking site for video-game enthusiasts that has yet to have its official online launch. Last year, Snocap was acquired by Imeem, and Rupture was taken over by Electronic Arts Inc.

MICHAEL EISNER, DISNEY

"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" was a question Michael Eisner thought all of America would be asking at the dawn of the millennium. And they did - for a while.

When they stopped several months later, though, Eisner was in trouble, and so was The Walt Disney Co., where he served as CEO and chairman. Eisner devoted time four nights a week to the hit game show - at the expense of developing other programming - and his ABC network paid the price. It took several years for ABC to get back into the ratings race against the other major broadcast networks.

It also proved to be the beginning of the end for the combative Eisner's long reign at Disney, which began in 1984. He was replaced as chairman in 2004 and stepped down as CEO a year later, giving way to current boss Robert Iger.

In 2006, Eisner was recruited by CNBC to host "Conversations with Michael Eisner," which he stopped doing earlier this year to spend more time on his firm, Tornante, a privately held investor in new media companies.

SANFORD WEILL, CITIGROUP

By 2000, Sanford "Sandy" Weill had helped build the world's biggest bank. And by the end of the decade, Citigroup Inc. was one of the biggest to receive government bailout funds and had lost is place as a component stock of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Meanwhile, Weill had lost his standing among Forbes' Richest Americans.

Weill and John Reed came together in 1998 to merge Weill's Travelers Cos. Inc. with Reed's Citibank. The two then oversaw what would become the largest financial services company on the planet, with Weill eventually assuming sole control in 2000.

Getting the two companies together wasn't easy, though, and the consequences of the merger are still being felt today. In order to OK the deal, Congress had to repeal the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which had prohibited banks from merging with insurance companies.

Many analysts blame the repeal of Glass-Steagall for much of what ails the nation today. But they also cite the missteps of Citigroup, which ended up turning more than one-third of its stock over to the government in exchange for $50 billion in bailout money. Weill's Travelers Group eventually was spun off and has since replaced Citigroup as a Dow component.

Weill stepped down as Citigroup CEO in 2003 and gave up the chairmanship in 2006, before the economic crisis started. He devotes his time to Carnegie Hall and Cornell University, where he serves on both boards.

STARS OF 2009

THE TWITTER GUYS

Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Isaac "Biz" Stone were all twenty-somethings a decade ago, trying to find their paths to fame and fortune. Now they're all thirty-somethings, and they have found their path to fame, though it has yet to produce a fortune.

Ten years ago, Dorsey was perfecting online dispatches for taxis, couriers and emergency vehicles. Stone was involved in a journaling service called Xanga. Williams was writing computer code.

Now, the trio collectively is the driving force behind Twitter, the phenomenally popular social-networking tool that the world uses 140 characters at a time. When this decade began, who knew that we wanted to tell the world what we're having for dinner or when we take out the trash? These guys did.

Twitter was born in 2006 from Dorsey and Stone's desire to make something more out of instant messaging while the two were working at a clearinghouse for podcasts. Williams, who had sold off a couple of his own ventures to Google Inc., helped fund the venture.

THE GOOGLE GUYS

Ten years ago, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were doing pretty much what they're doing now, only they weren't very well known.

Since 2000, the creators and founders of Google have become two of the most influential people in business as their company has reached the stock market's top 10 in market cap, now worth more than $185 billion.

Google, of course, isn't just a leading company with a blue-chip stock. Like Xerox and Kleenex before it, the name became part of the vernacular, synonymous with online searches.

In the Internet boom's infancy in 1996, Page started a research project at Stanford known as "BackRub" and later was joined by Brin, a Russian immigrant. It ate up too much bandwidth on the university's servers, so they went looking for investors.

JEFFREY IMMELT, GE

Jeffrey Immelt was about to ascend to the throne at of one of the world's most prominent companies 10 years ago, but few knew it at the time.

The chairman and chief executive of General Electric Co., Immelt was a top executive under the legendary Jack Welch when the decade began. He emerged from out of Welch's shadow when the boss handpicked him in November 2000 as his successor. When Immelt took over the next year, he soon discovered that his tenure at the helm wouldn't be easy.

Just four days after he assumed control, terrorists attacked on 9/11 and two GE employees were among the dead. GE's business took a hit on several fronts, notably its insurance business as well as its engines and leasing operations for aircraft.

After thriving under Welch, the blue-chip stock has floundered in the Immelt era, falling from near $60 when he was picked to the mid-teens today.

One of Immelt's more questioned moves was to add the Universal Studios operations on to the stable of NBC properties that GE already owned, in 2004. Since then the new company, NBC Universal, has struggled, and Immelt finally threw in the towel this month when he announced a sale of majority control to Comcast.

BEN BERNANKE

Ben Bernanke's reign as one of the nation's top decision makers may be short-lived if critics like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Jim Bunning have their way. Even so, it seems the chairman is bound to make it to another term as the nation's central banker.

Bernanke probably couldn't have envisioned his career taking the path it has when the decade began. Ten years ago Bernanke, the son of a Dillon drugstore owner, was a tenured economics professor at Princeton, where he was known for his research on the Great Depression.

In 2002 the academic made his first foray into public service, taking a leave to become a Federal Reserve Board governor.

President George W. Bush appointed him to his council of economic advisers in 2005 and then selected him as the successor to Alan Greenspan in February 2006.

In the eyes of his supporters, including President Obama, Bernanke inherited a difficult situation and performed admirably in guiding the nation through its worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. Critics on Capitol Hill such as Sanders and Bunning are out to strip the Fed of much of its power and independence, and often link the chairman to the loose policies that led to financial chaos.

Either way, history will remember Bernanke as the Fed chief who navigated troubled waters with a series of unprecedented programs to flood the markets with money.

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