After two tours of duty in the Vietnam war, James V. Kimsey returned home to Washington, D.C., with $2,000 in his bank account. Today he is the founding CEO Emeritus of America Online Inc., a $120 billion company and one of the largest Internet service providers.
As the featured speaker at the Hoffman Lecture, sponsored by the GW School of Business and Public Management and the Center for the Advancement of Small Business Tuesday night in the University Club, Kimsey told audience members how his now-giant corporation began as a “total accident.”
“When I began the company I had no real vision,” said Kimsey, who ran a chain of successful District-area restaurants and handled real estate and banking operations before he started AOL. But Kimsey, a U.S. Military Academy graduate and avid philanthropist, was always on the lookout for new ventures.
“Persistence is the most important thing,” he said. “Look at any person who has ever been successful, they’ve probably failed at least once first.”
In AOL’s first years, floundering financial partnerships with the Commodore and Apple computer companies, and competition with the Prodigy online system nearly spelled disaster for the young company. But Kimsey was determined to keep AOL afloat.
With its recent purchase of Netscape and ICQ, Kimsey said AOL needs to “continue to think like a small company” to achieve maximum success.