Ripp ropes top of TW’s finance tower

CFO's empire expands

NEW YORK — Time Warner is set to promote the chief financial officer of Time Inc., Joseph A. Ripp, to become CFO of the whole company, a slot being vacated by Richard Bressler, the entertainment conglom said Tuesday.

Bressler was named chairman/CEO of Time Warner Digital Media earlier this month. In this newly created post, he will develop a companywide digital strategy. Ripp will take over from Bressler on July 15.

Ripp, 47, had been CFO of Time Inc. since 1994 and had worked in various financial capacities for the publishing division since 1985. In a prepared statement, Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin and president Richard Parsons credited Ripp with helping make “possible the extraordinary growth of our publishing operations” in recent years.

Steady growth

Time Inc.’s cash flow grew 60% from 1994 to 1998 to $687 million, according to Lehman Bros. analyst Larry Petrella, while its revenue grew only 30% over the same period. (Cash flow is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, although Time Warner last year switched to a slightly different measure of performance.)

“Revenues have been weak, but they have delivered very good results despite postage increases and paper price increases,” Petrella noted, adding that it was difficult to say how much of the credit Ripp deserves for the strong performance.

“Joe has been an integral part of our very small management team that has made the strategic decisions at Time Inc. about new businesses, how to improve profit margins and to manage our costs,” said Time Inc. CEO Don Logan.

In an interview Ripp said, “We were able to find lots of ways at Time Inc. that drove value,” including looking at costs and launching new products such as In Style magazine.

Given Time Warner’s collection of assets, Ripp said he expected to find ways to deliver more value as well as continue Bressler’s work of “focusing on costs and capital deployment.”

Street silent

Still, reaction was muted on Wall Street, where Ripp isn’t known. But several Wall Streeters noted that Bressler, another internal appointee to the CFO position, was also unknown in the financial community when he took over in 1995.

Yet Bressler impressed many investors and analysts with his performance as CFO. He is credited with playing a major role in the overhaul of Time Warner’s financial management, which helped trigger a dramatic stock market rally in TW stock.

Time Warner stock rose 62¢ to $68.56 Tuesday.

In his new role, Ripp will not be solely responsible for dealing with Wall Street; Bressler is expected to maintain some dealings with the Street as he explains Time Warner’s digital strategies, while Time Warner VP of investor relations Joan Sumner is also expected to assume a bigger role. TW president Richard Parsons also plays a role communicating with investors.

Ripp graduated with an MBA from City U. of New York in 1978. He worked on the Time Inc. account at accounting firm Ernst and Whinney from 1975 until joining Time Inc.