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Bewkes to succeed Parsons at Time Warner

CATALYST FOR CHANGE? dick parsons will stay on as chairman, but investors hope Jeff Bewkes of HBO will be able to take dramtic action to revive Time Waner's stock.

AP , NEW YORK

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

Parsons, 59, 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, 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 US$47 level it saw in January 2001 when the deal closed and stayed under US$20 a share until late last year, wiping out billions in shareholder wealth. After struggling above US$20 for several months this year, the stock later fell back below that level in July and edged down US$0.07 to end at US$17.81 on 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 last year 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.

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 US.

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.

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