A Time For Bold Leadership

Richard Parson's deal-making prowess and diplomatic touch has catapulted him to become CEO of AOL Time Warner,the world's largest media powerhouse

regulators discovered Dime was saddled with $1 billion in bad debts, he fended off regulators, slashed middle management, and set up an internal “bank” to manage as well as write off and sell nonperforming mortgages and other loans. By cleaning up the bank’s balance sheet, he was able to orchestrate the merger between Dime and Anchor Savings Bank, another ailing institution, in 1994. He managed to transform his small regional thrift into a thriving financial monolith with $20 billion in assets–the fourth largest thrift in the nation at the time.

When he assumed the presidency of Time Warner Inc. in February 1995, he displayed the same mixture of diplomacy and determination. As Levin’s right-hand man on strategic and financial issues, he worked on the company’s balance sheet and spent countless hours talking to Wall Street. In addition to selling Levin’s multimedia vision of Time Warner, he also supervised the coordination of the company’s operating divisions. One big advantage: Parsons knew the company because he has served on the board since 1991.

His approach made him the company’s go-to guy when dealing with sticky situations. When Time Warner refused to carry the Fox News Channel and Disney Channel on its cable system last year, it created a major feud among the nation’s leading media companies. It was Parsons who brought parties together, settled disputes, and handled the negotiations. He was so effective that Time Warner adversaries, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, gave Parsons high marks on his integrity-oriented approach to deal making. And Parsons’ insider status in Washington, D.C. and New York–he’s served as chairman of Harlem’s empowerment zone and as a member of the transition team for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–helps the company when it comes to regulatory squabbles.

He’ll have to show the same level of commitment and dexterity in grappling such internal issues as management diversity. Despite Parsons’ milestone, AOL Time Warner has an abysmal track record of promoting blacks and other minorities as division heads and to other senior posts. “One of my objectives is to make greater strides in having our workforce reflect the customers and community that we serve,” he says. “We need to make more progress in our senior management ranks.”

Analysts say that though Parsons is a “behind-the-scenes” executive, his commanding presence and comfort with addressing both investors and the investment community should serve him well in his more visible role. This is not to say, however, that the CEO-to-be will become a media darling. “In a big organization — particularly a media organization — you’re going to have some big personalities,” says Joyce. “So you’re going to have some rock stars, but you also need people who can get things done behind the scenes.”

One thing is certain. Whether inside or outside the corporate corridors, Parsons never shies away from the action. “We’re off to a good start. I’m ready to kick the company into second gear,” he says.

BORN: 1948, Brooklyn, New York

TITLE: Chief Executive Officer, AOL Time Warner Inc.

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