Dick Parsons will step aside as Time Warner CEO

NEW YORK (AP) - Jeff Bewkes will succeed Dick Parsons as the CEO of Time Warner Inc. on Jan. 1, the company announced Monday, completing a widely anticipated succession at the top of the world's largest media conglomerate. 

Parsons, who is 59 years old, will stay on as chairman. He had taken over in 2002, just as the company was reeling in the aftermath of its disastrous decision to be acquired by AOL. 

A former lawyer and skilled negotiator, he helped restore the company's stature and rebuild its relations with Wall Street. 

Bewkes, who is 55, was chief executive of HBO for seven years and helped transform the cable TV channel into a hugely profitable network that also consistently won critical acclaim with original programming including "The Sopranos'' and "Sex and the City.'' 

Investors will now be looking to Bewkes to take dramatic action to revive the company's long-suffering stock, which is still stuck at about the same level as when Parsons took over five years ago. 

Bewkes had long been groomed as Parsons' successor, with only the exact timing of the changeover yet to be finalized.  

Bewkes was named to the Time Warner board this year, and took the title of chief operating officer two years ago. 

Parsons, one of the most prominent black executives in corporate America, has spent much of his tenure repairing the damage from Time Warner's combination with AOL in 2000. 

The grand synergies promised by the deal never materialized - the company had to take multibillion dollar write-downs, and later faced, and settled, shareholder lawsuits and federal investigations stemming from fraudulent accounting practices at AOL that appeared to inflate revenues. 

The company's stock went on a downward spiral from the $47 level it saw in January 2001, when the deal closed, and stayed under $20 a share until late last year, wiping out billions in shareholder wealth.  

After struggling above $20 for several months this year, the stock later fell back below that level in July, and edged down 7 cents to end at $17.81 Monday. 

The company's credibility had been battered after it failed to deliver on aggressive financial goals and promised various synergies from AOL's online expertise and Time Warner's traditional media properties.  

Parsons helped restore Time Warner's reputation on Wall Street by scaling back on promises and making more realistic forecasts. 

He also successfully fended off a challenge from the activist investor Carl Icahn in 2006 to break up the company. 

He pared the company's debt and sold off several businesses, including Warner Music Group and a book publishing business, to clarify and streamline the company's structure, which had been criticized as unwieldy. 

While Parsons has a smooth, diplomatic style that served the company well during its struggle through the aftermath of the AOL merger, Bewkes is more of a hands-on business operator. 

Early in his career Parsons worked as a lawyer for Nelson Rockefeller, a former liberal Republican governor of New York, and in the Gerald Ford White House, giving him a firm grounding in politics and the art of negotiating. 

In the years following his ascension to the top job at Time Warner, he managed to get past much of the tortured legacy of AOL, including its accounting problems, gung-ho culture and overly aggressive financial forecasts.  

The company eventually removed "AOL'' from the front of its name. 

Bewkes joined HBO as a marketing manager in 1979 and steadily worked his way up the ranks, helping build the cable channel into one of the most successful and best-regarded media businesses in the United States. 

Personally, the two men also have different styles. Parsons is tall, full-chested, sports a beard and an easy laugh.  

He owns a winery in Tuscany called Il Palazzone ("The Big Palace''), which makes highly regarded red wines.  

Bewkes is also tall but lean, focused, and has a penetrating gaze. 

Bewkes has taken a prominent role in overseeing one of the most important transitions going on in Time Warner today, AOL's shift from a subscription-driven business to a public Web site that derives income from building traffic and selling advertising, much as online portals such as Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN do. 

But investors are sure to demand even bolder steps from Bewkes to ramp up the company's operations and possibly reshape it in hopes of getting the stock price higher. 

While Time Warner resisted many of Icahn's demands to break off parts of the company, they did sell about 15 percent of the company's largest division, Time Warner Cable Inc., to the public.  

Speculation has frequently circulated that the company would further reduce its stake in the cable division, or possibly sell other parts of the company. 

Speculation has also centered on whether Parsons would run for mayor of New York in 2009 following the departure of Michael Bloomberg.  

Parsons has said he was not actively considering it but has not ruled anything out. 

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