Gerald Levin stepping down as AOL Time Warner chief executive; replaced by Parsons

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ AOL Time Warner Inc. chief executive Gerald Levin is stepping down as head of the world's largest media company and will be replaced by co-chief operating officer Richard Parsons.

Steve Case will remain as chairman, while the company's other co-COO, Robert Pittman, will become the sole COO, according to Wednesday's announcement.

Levin, 62, will retire at the board meeting in May.

The timing of his departure came as a surprise to some analysts because Levin had given no indication he planned to retire before age 65. But they said the announcement did not appear to result from friction in the company.

In an e-mail to employees, Levin said he made his decision after a year of discussions with the board about succession issues and ``much personal reflection.''

Levin also revealed he had a provision inserted into his contract allowing him to retire early. The provision was included in 1997 after his son, Jonathan, an English teacher, was slain by a former student.

``I felt that once my work was completed and I was satisfied with the company's direction and progress, I'd invoke that provision and turn my full energies to the moral and social issues I feel so passionate about,'' Levin wrote. ``That time has arrived.''

Levin did not describe those issues. His recent philanthropic donations include the establishment of college scholarships and a $10 million donation to The National Cable Television Center and Museum, all in his son's name.

Levin has been a driving force since the late 1980s behind the former Time Inc.'s transformation into a multimedia powerhouse through its combination with music and moviemaker Warner Communications Inc., its acquisition of Ted Turner's cable empire and its marriage with Internet powerhouse AOL.

The 53-year-old Parsons, one of the highest-ranking black executives in corporate America, has operated mainly behind the scenes. He has been in charge of the company's content businesses, including movie studios, Warner Music Group and Time Warner Trade Publishing.

``Given that we are almost a full year into the merger and that an outstanding management team is now in place at the company, I am convinced that AOL Time Warner should begin an orderly transition to a new era of leadership,'' Levin said in announcing his retirement.

The $106 billion combination of America Online and Time Warner brought together the world's largest online service, which now has more than 32 million subscribers, and a huge media company, with such properties as cable network CNN and HBO, movie studio Warner Bros. and magazines such as Time, People and Sports Illustrated.

Levin joined Time Inc. in 1972 to help develop a new cable service called Home Box Office and was instrumental in the 1975 decision to distribute its programs nationally by satellite, a key element in bringing about the development of the modern cable industry.

Following Time Inc.'s merger with Warner Communications in 1990, Levin served as vice chairman and chief operating officer, ascending to the co-CEO role in February 1992 with Steve Ross.

When Ross died in December, Levin took over as sole CEO. Over the next decade, Levin helped expand Time Warner's scope and scale, including a landmark 1995 deal in which Time Warner bought Turner Broadcasting Systems.

Following the AOL-Time Warner deal, which was announced in January 2000 but took nearly a year to complete, there was speculation over what role Levin might take in the new company, especially as the deal was structured as an acquisition of Time Warner.

In a recent interview with The New Yorker magazine, Levin said his working relationship with Case _ the co-founder of AOL _ was strong, and that he had no timetable for retiring. ``For me, personally, this is the best it's ever been,'' he said. ``It's probably facilitated because I certainly have no personal agendas. I'm not running for office. I'm not looking for anyone's approbation.''