In his five years as CEO of Time Warner, Richard D. Parsons tamed a sprawling, unruly media octopus. Silencing early critics, he took a rudderless company with disparate holdings-such as Warner Bros. studios, HBO, the Time Inc. stable of magazines, and AOL-and transformed it into a uniform, functional enterprise. He simplified the corporate structure, strengthened the balance sheet, and discarded nonperforming assets. Not to say he hasn’t had major challenges. Despite his management prowess, the stock price has been stuck in a range, fueling shareholder dissent, most notably billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s push to break up the company in 2006. Throughout it all, #Parsons maintained his position as one of the most #powerful media moguls on the planet.
At a time when many chief executives have left the executive suite under fire, he has orchestrated one of the most orderly CEO successions in recent times. On top of that, he’s had to deal with corporate developments outside of Time Warner. As a board member of Citigroup, Parsons attended to the financial giant’s multibillion-dollar write-offs of subprime debt, and he presided over the board subcommittee that found Citigroup’s new CEO.
When Parsons stepped down as Time Warner CEO in January, he retained the title and responsibilities of chairman of the board. In an exclusive interview with black enterprise, Parsons discusses the future of Time Warner and #diversity in the executive suite.
Black Enterprise: Explain your current role with the company.
PARSONS: My new job is just to make sure that the new CEO [Jeffrey Bewkes] is effectively communicating his vision and direction to the board, that board input is being effectively received by the new CEO, and the other matters of chairing board meetings.
BE: What do you view as your greatest achievements during your tenure as CEO?
PARSONS: The thing that I feel the most satisfaction about is the relationship that I’ve been able to establish with all of my colleagues in the company, all the people who have been working on taking the company from the brink of disaster and restoring it to good shape. Even though the market has not smiled as favorably on our stock as I might have hoped, the company itself, in terms of the quality of its earnings and performance of its various divisions, is coming along. We have challenges like every company does in these markets, but we’re well back from the precipice and I think moving in a good channel.
BE: So what does management need to do to get movement in the stock price?
PARSONS: What we have to do is just continue to perform and show the marketplace and investors that we can turn the changes in our industry, including the acceleration of digital technology, to our advantage.
BE: So you believe you’ve structured Time Warner to handle the dynamic and rapid changes going on in media. Do you see retaining the suite of companies in the future?
PARSONS: I think the company is positioned very well to compete and grow in both the current environment and foreseeable future