Jeff Bewkes to top Time Warner

Dick Parsons will remain as chairman

New Year’s Day, always a propitious time to herald change, will bring a new era to the world’s largest media company.

Time Warner said Monday that Jeff Bewkes, prexy and chief operating officer, will ascend to the chief executive post Jan. 1, with current topper Dick Parsons staying on as chairman.

Parsons’ five-year tenure centered on the task of cleaning up after the debt and devastation wrought by Hurricane AOL. Meanwhile, he also managed to sell off the music and book units and preside over a period of fiscal stability — especially compared with the days following the 2000 merger that saw a new-media darling swallow an old-media warhorse with disastrous results.

Under Bewkes, units ticketed for unloading could include the troublesome AOL division and the cable outfit. The latter has been a profit machine but already exists in semi-autonomous fashion following a successful IPO in January.

Wall Streeters have been clamoring for a breakup of the distinctly nonsynergistic, five-division conglom as a means of boosting the company’s share price, which has been locked in a narrow range between $18 and $22 per share for much of the past year.

As the chief exec change had been expected since 2006, when Parsons approached the board about succession plans, the stock didn’t budge Monday, drifting down a fraction to close at $17.81 on average volume.

The two execs have worked closely together at the top of the corporate pyramid for the past two years as Bewkes was groomed for the chief exec post. Their styles are distinctly different — Parsons, 59, is a mellow-toned, jazz-loving 6-foot-9 diplomat rumored for a future in politics; Bewkes, 55, is a shrewd strategist possessed of a mordant wit and quick business reflexes — but they have made a successful pair.

It isn’t widely believed that a Bewkes-run company culture would be a stark departure from the current one. The change will likely be in strategic direction.

The two top execs offered mutually admiring statements Monday, with Parsons pronouncing himself “delighted” with the move.

Bewkes’ “results-oriented management style and deep industry knowledge will be invaluable as he drives growth at Time Warner,” Parsons predicted. “Throughout his career, Jeff has demonstrated the capacity to generate industry-leading performances at our businesses, whether measured in terms of financial, operational or creative successes.”

Bewkes praised Parsons’ leadership and offered a glance at the path ahead. “We have a lot to do, and I’m intensely focused on building shareholder value,” he said.

A Yale graduate and Stanford MBA, Bewkes has spent nearly three decades at Time Warner. He came to the company in 1979 as a marketing manager and went on to make his mark in a long tenure at HBO as chief financial officer, then president and finally chief exec. His years in the exec suite helped bring about the pay cabler’s financial and pop-cultural rise in the 1990s.

In his present job, Bewkes oversaw ops at Time Inc., HBO, Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Time Warner Cable and AOL. From 2002-05, he was chairman of Time Warner’s entertainment and networks group.

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